In the Midst of Daily Blackouts, Cuba Organizes a Renewable Energy Fair

The Government’s goal was to reach 24% of electricity generation from renewable energies by 2030, but at the beginning of 2022, the progress is only 5%. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 June 2022 — The Cuban population’s weariness of a summer without power grows and jumps from social networks to the streets. If Tuesday was a day of protest for the university residents of Camagüey, on Wednesday came the banging on pots through the streets of Manzanillo, in the province of Granma. The prolonged power cuts threaten a protest a day.

In the midst of this storm, the ruling party has promoted a space for the celebration of the International Renewable Energy Fair, which is held in Havana between June 22 and 24.

“Cuba needs to catapult the use of renewable energies,” is the headline in the State newspaper Granma. In 2014, the island approved a policy for the development of these energy sources, which then accounted for 4.3% of the electricity generation of a country extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels. The goal was to reach 24% by 2030, but at the beginning of 2022, the halfway point, the progress seemed like a mockery. Only 5%.

“The implementation of the FRE (Renewable Energy Sources) Policy is behind schedule; at the end of 2021 we should have had 649 MW/h in operation, but today it reaches only 47% of what was expected, 304 MW/h,” Rosell Guerra, director of Renewable Energy at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, said in an interview with IPS at the beginning of 2022.

The explanation is very simple. Public policies need funding rather than voluntarism, rather than fantasies. In the same article, the official pointed out that since 2014, $500 million has been invested in renewables, a figure that contrasts with the $1.5 billion invested in hotels.

Guerra attributed the lack of progress to U.S. sanctions and the current bad economic situation, although the Cuban government didn’t take advantage of the chance to invest more even in the best years of that period, when the thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba relieved the perpetual crisis on the island. On the other hand, the regime has not stopped attracting financing for tourism, a sector that makes money easily and quickly, and which collects foreign currency that, according to the authorities, is indispensable for imports. What is not clear is what can be imported if industries stop producing due to lack of energy, as is already happening in Sancti Spíritus.

In its 2014 plan, Cuba had foreseen that $3.7 billion would be needed, most of which would go to bioelectric plants, key to the renewal of the Cuban energy combination, thanks to the bagasse of sugar cane. The plan was good on paper: the cane went to sugar production and the bagasse went to the electricity system, to which it had to contribute 14% in 2030.

The reality is different: not only has the planned conversion not been made, but the industrial failures leave dramatic episodes such as the loss of 300 tons of bagasse this April due to a fire at the Mario Muñoz sugar plant in Matanzas: precisely the one that delivers the most energy to the national system.

The rest of the amount (and for a 10% contribution to electricity) had to go to the construction of wind and photovoltaic parks. Cuba, with a radiation of more than 5 kilowatts per square meter per day, has a high potential to produce solar energy and, in fact, this is what has advanced the most. The parks that have been built contribute more than 78% of the country’s renewable energy, 238 megawatts per hour. But the amount, once again, is insignificant, and furthermore, the necessary investment figures have increased.

By 2022, officials in the sector had already put the foreign investment indispensable for the change of the energy matrix at $6 billion. Despite the fact that the authorities have introduced some tax exemptions for companies that want to invest in renewables on the island, the money has not yet arrived and is not expected to arrive right now when the international economic crisis is tightening. Cuba, in particular, has had to renegotiate its debts due to the defaults of the last two years, both with the Paris Club and with its main partner, Russia.

In any event, Cuba is very late in updating its energy system. According to Cuba Energía, between 2016 and 2019, 95% of production came from fossils that, in addition to being highly polluting, are finite: 52.3% were extracted from crude oil and 17.6% from gas. The remaining 30.1% came from the burning of cane (27.1%), firewood (2.7%) and hydropower (0.2%). The remaining 5% is attributed to renewables, which is made up of more than 45% solar, more than 30% hydropower, 14% wind and almost 8% biogas.

Renewables in Spain, a country that receives a large amount of solar radiation as well, accounted for 46% of electricity generation in 2021, although the greatest weight was carried by wind, with more than 23%.

Cuban thermoelectric plants, with more than 30 years of operation and a well-known lamentable state, don’t produce much, and the country allocates about $2.8 billion a year to the electricity sector, which includes the purchase of fuels, despite the fact that it obtains large quantities for free — which have been decreasing — from Venezuela, as a result of its personnel agreements (the sending of Cuban doctors and security services mainly) for oil.

The island’s plants are generating less than 40% of their installed power. The reserves are at zero, and the scheduled blackouts exceed the limits of the trained patience of Cubans, with cuts that exceed 12 to 14 hours. The day before yesterday, the protests forced the restoration of electricity in Camagüey. Last night, in Manzanillo, the effect of the pan-banging also worked to restore power. The authorities are managing the discomfort, but Cubans are realizing that their screams can change things.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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