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CUBA
Energy: clean and cheap
Lucila Horta
7/6/2006
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Renewable energy research advances.

In two years, Cuba could be producing wind-powered electricity, says Conrado Moreno, member of the Renewable Energy Technology Studies Center.

While he recognizes that alternative energy will not cover all of islands’ energy needs nor will it put a definitive end to the use of combustible fuel, Moreno adds that "the models of the future will diminish the use of fossil fuels."

Historically, Cuba produced electricity using thermoelectric plants, that after some costly technological investments were adapted to run on Cuban crude, which has a high sulfur content. Just over 80 percent of electric current is produced by these oil-run plants that require frequent maintenance and causes periodic ruptures in the installations.

This problematic system reached critical levels in 2005, when frequent blackouts prompted a redesign of the system and the launch of a macro project called the Energy Revolution, which aims to save electricity and the fuel that powers the plants. This included the use of more energy-saving models of electric household appliances.

At the same time, the country stepped up its efforts to develop renewable resource technology that would have less impact on the environment.

Cuba began to use more electricity generators that increased generation by 1,000 megawatts, or close to 50 percent of what the country consumes during peak hours, putting almost a complete end to the blackouts. Cuba currently uses these generators and the other petroleum and gas-run facilities to produce approximately 300,000 kilowatts per hour.

 

But the advancement of wind-powered energy is a key alternative for the island. There are 15 wind towers on the Cuban island of Juventud and in the city Holguin. The coastal strip in which this city is located was selected because the wind off the Atlantic Ocean offers the constant force needed to produce electricity.

Fifty-meter (134-foot) polls support anemometers and weathervanes to measure wind currents and strengths. This technology can produce more than 500 megawatts, equal to what is generated by one of the thermoelectric plants in the same eastern part of the country whose daily electricity demand is 180 megawatts per day.

Cuba is also exploring solar energy. The island receives the equivalent of 11 million tons of oil in solar energy each year.

But the technology required to take advantage of the natural resource is costly — between seven and 10 times more expensive than traditional electricity-generating methods — so it is only used in isolated communities, such as in the 6.2 percent of the population that lives in the country’s mountains.

Some 8,400 schools have solar panels installed to power their televisions and computers. Also, 560 doctor’s offices and 1,800 community television theaters use miniature hydro-electric plants, more than a dozen generators powered by rivers and reservoir water.

Approximately 90,000 Cubans living in sparsely populated areas favor these alternative resources.

To produce a kilowatt with solar energy is the "end" to the current fossil fuel-based energy model, said participants at the First Renewable Energy and Water Workshop: A Challenge for the Union Movement, held in early June in Havana. "The era of cheap energy has ended," participants said.

 

The group stressed the importance of researching the technology that will bring down energy costs and to take advantage of the many renewable energy possibilities.

While advancements continue in alternative energy generation, other energy research in Cuba is dedicated to the search for gas, although light crude has been discovered on the island, but the preferred formula is gas mixed with petroleum since it is cheaper and less contaminating.

In January, President Fidel Castro named among the benefits of switching to more economically and environmentally-friendly technology, saving foreign money, the use of save safe and clean gas in homes, and that at the end of the program will give Cuba an annual savings of $1 billion.

An oil-powered thermoelectric plant needs 240 grams of fuel to produce one kilowatt, but if 30 percent is substituted with an oil-gas mixture, a kilowatt can be produced with 180 grams of fuel.

The increase in production and use of oil-gas mixtures has allowed a production increase from 90 megawatts to 325 megawatts per day, according to Yadira García Vera, Cuba’s basic industry minister.

"The program for the next two years predicts an increase to 500 megawatts, becoming the basic generator of the electric system because of its low costs, contributing to the substantial decrease in environmental contamination," she said.

Cheaper energy prices

A natural alternative


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