Solar Energy Outlook in Cuba

by Sasha Kolopic

Photo: CIES
Photo: CIES

HAVANA TIMES — On the outskirts of Havana, in the neighborhood of San Miguel de Padron, the electricity was cut off for an entire day last week. Local residents already fear that the blackout may signal the preparations for an upcoming energy shortage due to the recent political changes in Venezuela and the likely end to the oil subsidy program with Cuba.

Cuba’s electricity supply is still highly dependent on oil imports from neighboring Venezuela. But, like most Caribbean nations, Cuba has immense potential for energy generation from renewable alternatives, including solar energy, which can be utilized to meet domestic and small business needs.

Cuba’s renewable energy output is small, estimated to be at about 4% of its overall production in 2012. The government claims that it wants to increase its renewable energy generating capacity to 24% by 2030 through an investment of $3.5 billion. In order to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel imports, Cuba has instituted a wide-reaching energy efficiency program in 2006, which has overseen various energy saving initiatives for households, including the replacement of old and inefficient domestic appliances.

Another aspect of the improvement program was a switch to a more distributed country-wide network of energy generation with smaller power plants in order to reduce the potential for damages and blackouts that were previously the result of hurricanes affecting a more centralized network. Looking ahead, with the recently introduced economic reforms and a looming end to the US embargo, Cuba needs to act on the next phase of improvements to accommodate the economic growth and the rising energy demand for domestic and industrial use.

For solar energy to have a long-term impact on Cuba’s energy demand and production, projects must expand beyond off-grid usage. The focus should shift toward urban applications of solar systems and the further development of solar-powered domestic appliances.

Solar energy potential in Cuba is high when considering that the country’s geographic position can enable a generation of 5kWh per square meter – about the average daily usage of one household. Although solar energy projects have thus far been limited to remote areas, capacity has increased considerably in recent years.

In 2013 Cuba’s first solar farm opened in Cantarrana, near Cienfuegos, with a capacity of 2.6 MWp. The Santa Teresa solar plant (4.5 MWp capacity) near the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo has started operating recently as well. The government has built a manufacturing plant that has produced 14,000 photovoltaic solar panels, also near Cienfuegos. Currently, the Granma Province has the largest percentage of renewable energy generation within Cuba at about 37% in 2013. By the end of 2014, over 1,500 off-grid solar systems were powering clinics, schools, community centers, and homes located in remote areas of Granma Province. The Cuban government has stated that it wants to have 700 MW of solar energy capacity installed by 2030.

Cuba can rely on local expertise to help support the growth of solar energy around the country. It has a well-educated labor force and local organizations, such as the Centro de Investigaciones de Energía Solar (CIES), that are working on the research, development, and implementation of various solar energy projects and solutions. Additionally, CIES is developing the academic and technical capacity in all of Cuba’s provinces through training workshops paired with solar installations that are easily maintained by the community. They have designed a multitude of prototypes including PV controllers, solar energy water heaters, solar kitchens, solar dryers and other appliances.

Unfortunately, CIES is limited by insufficient funding which is vital for further product testing and improvement, as well as for planning a potential international market presence to meet the growing global demand for solar-powered solutions and appliances.

Solar dryer for grains. Photo: CIES
Solar dryer for grains. Photo: CIES

Working closely with CIES is the local NGO Cubasolar, which is run by local engineers, scientists and planners who have been very active in pushing for the advancement of renewable energy in Cuba. One of their major successes has been the creation of a countrywide network of experts in various sectors and they foster the cooperation and knowledge transfer with international actors in the field of solar energy. Cubasolar publishes a quarterly magazine, “Energía y Tu”, featuring articles about research, projects, and initiatives in the field of renewable energy.

For solar energy to have a long-term impact on Cuba’s energy demand and production, projects must expand beyond off-grid usage. The focus should shift toward urban applications of solar systems and the further development of solar-powered domestic appliances. Particularly the latter category offers Cuba a lot of potential to develop into a global actor, as the international demand for high-quality, affordable solar appliances is strong.

The element preventing Cuba from achieving that position is a financial one. Despite recent economic reforms, Cuba is still not a very attractive option for foreign direct investment, with or without the obstacles presented by the US embargo. Even if the embargo were to end soon, it doesn’t guarantee that international finance mechanisms will immediately be able to (or allowed to) proverbially take off.

To support the development of the renewable energy sector in Cuba, a cautious small-scale entry into the complex world of international finance could likely start by initially incorporating small energy projects by international NGOs or via corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs from major global corporations – an unlikely scenario given the recent rebuke by the Cuban government towards Google’s proposal to provide internet access throughout the country and instead turning to partners from China.

Another financing option includes tapping into international development funds which focus on advancing renewable energy such as the UN’s Solar Energy For All program. An example of that approach is the recent $15 million loan that the Cuban government has received from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADfD) that was created together with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The loan should partly help finance four 10 MW solar power plants. Beyond that, the Cuban government has a long way to go if it is to build the planned 700 MW of solar capacity and secure the $3.5 billion that are necessary to fund its vision of a countrywide energy transformation. How the government aims to achieve that, with whom, and under what conditions is still a mystery.



16 thoughts on “Solar Energy Outlook in Cuba

  • This article is good for any sun producing town. Thanks and the very best in luck!

    Reply
  • The key to Solar is ability to finance it. It is a capital investment. This requires the ability to pay for it. The benefits are gained over time, paying over time requires a credit rating and means of paying loans back with earned income.

    Reply
    • Those are financial requirements. There are also unfulfilled technical challenges. Solar energy technology is still very low in the efficiency of converting light energy into electricity. It will have to increase by several multiples before the return in energy output overtakes the energy input and capital investment put into it. We are a long way away from that now.

      That said, there are scientists working on it and the funding for that research is coming from capitalists.

      Reply
  • As a race, technologically we are at the “knee” of a graph that rockets upward .
    We are approaching an age of technology that surpasses anything that I’ve read in perhaps 1000 science fiction novels over the years.
    Even now, at the present , photovoltaic technology is doubling at an incredible rate and it is already cheaper than coal and oil in markets where those fuels are more expensive than in other areas of the world.
    I would guess that given the exponential increase in output from new photovoltaic technologies, consideration has to be given to postponing buying in because stuff five years from now will be very much more efficient. Much like buying a new computer .
    Secondly, by the mid 2020s we or the Chinese will have a computer array that surpasses human capability. (1000 petaflops =1000 quadrillion FLoating Operations Per Second.
    This is guaranteed by Moore’s Law still using silicon chip technology which can handle that load.
    At that point, that smarter-than-human intelligence may well solve all the mysteries of technologies like fusion power the development of which would and WILL change the world along with super-intelligent robotics which, without a doubt, will replace all UNWANTED human labor and create a world of abundance .
    We’re talking no more than 20-25 years at the outside because as one book title said it, the smarter- than-human artificial intelligence may be humanity’s last invention.
    I would highly recommend anyone interested in this coming future technology especially skeptics to read Martin Ford’s ” Rise Of The Robots: Technology And The Threat Of A Jobless Future”
    As Yogi Berra once said : “The future ain’t what it used to be”
    Doubtless you will all be skeptical of that 20 year timeframe but the best computer 30 years was the size of a small house , cost millions of dollars and could only calculate numbers .
    Thirty years later the smart phone is tiny, costs hundreds and connects us with the entire world through the internet, takes pictures, is a flashlight , an alarm clock, a note pad, an atlas of the world and oh yeah, a phone .
    In less than 20 years computers will be traveling through your bloodstream picking off cancer cells and cold viruses before they can amount to anything and a lot more you can’t possibly imagine .
    As bad as things are now for many in this world , we are approaching a golden age of humanity and it doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not; it is unfolding evermore rapidly before your unseeing eyes. Remember the computer/smart phone transition took 30 years and the technology is , has been and will continue to increase acceleration.
    Hang in there.
    Look for it.

    Reply
    • …and not one word about Cuba? Are you at the right blog?

      Reply
      • In 1971 British cybernetics prodigy Stafford Beer proposed replacing Radio Bembe with an cybernetic network (re internet) in Chile, despite successfully breaking a milk strike, this was mothballed by Pinochet and his U.S. allies for fear of spreading real democracy to one of Castro’s outposts. Actually Allende was more than that. But to return to the point. Jeremy Rifkin has proposed the solution. Germany leads the way in exploiting it, whilst China has invested billions to use it to electrify the countryside. The U.S. lags not far behind. As always this is a tricky situation for Cuba to manage. Japan has an aging population and little by way of investment 🙁

        Reply
    • John is right by the time cuba gets financing it will buy solar panels at half the price

      Reply
      • it’s tragic really, in 2016 still burning oil to generate the vast majority of cuba’s electricity.

        mind boggling

        all a result of a overbearing state

        Reply
    • 1000 science fiction novels huh? I think that explains a lot actually.

      Reply
    • …..oh and all of those beautiful inventions you mention, each and every one was created by Capitalism!

      Reply
    • John,

      Moore’s Law isn’t a Law, it was a gimmick slogan. The progress of ever smaller integrated circuits has been stopped by a real physical law: Ohm’s Law. Past a certain point, the dissipation of heat prevents further reduction in scale. We’re at that point now.

      Reply
      • …what’s the point? I’ve been telling him that for ages. Moore’s “law” isn’t even really a law. Even Gordon Moore himself has said so!

        Reply
  • Viva Cuba! Viva la Revolusion! Patria o muerte!

    Reply
    • Obviamente los Cubanos prefieren la muerte …..se arriesgan la propia vida para huir de los Castros y tu preciosa revolusion.

      Reply
  • the question is how can we help get our products and technology into Cuba and sold to those that need it to help in small business, education, security and the basics if keeping lights on and the country growing

    Reply
  • Personally I think the government is on the right path and solar energy is the only way to go. On that note consider this. Every single day Cuban homes heat water to bath, most using electricity. I installed a 90 liter solar water heater a year ago. The widespread distribution of smaller affordable units could seriously reduce the energy production requirements of the country.

    Reply

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