Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13
UM professor: Cuba's electricity has been sagging for years
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuba's electricity sector has been going steadily downhill in the past
five or six years because of bad investments, lack of controls and
hurricane damages, according to an updated report by a University of
"They had a little improvement until 2005 or 2006, but since then it's
been falling," said Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electrical
engineering who has long monitored the sector and written several
reports on its activity.
Cereijos' latest figures show that the electricity lost between the
generating plants and consumers rose from 18 percent of power generated
in 2005 to 30 percent last year, compared to about 5 percent in other
The number of days with blackouts rose from 100 to 125 in the same
period, he reported, and the total time of interruptions in the system
rose from 480,000 hours in 2008 to 900,000 hours last year.
Meanwhile, peak demand rose steadily, from 2,200 megawatts to 3,500
megawatts, leading to interruptions and other problems. The island today
needs an immediate addition of 500 megawatts in generating capacity,
Cuba was hit by a growing string of blackouts last summer, capped by a
massive outage in September that left an estimated 5 million people
without power for up to 12 hours in the western half of the island.
Cereijo said he gathers his figures from the Cuban government's own
National Statistics Office (ONE), electricity sector employees who
defected and now live abroad and companies that sell equipment to the
island, among others.
A retired deputy dean of the engineering faculty at Florida
International University, Cereijo wrote a lengthy report on Cuba's power
sector in 2011. He will present an update at UM on April 17.
Electricity generation and distribution on the island were hard hit in
the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped sending
cheap oil and spare parts for the island's Soviet-made equipment.
Cubans joked at the time they had more darkness than light, and called
the occasional return of power "light-ins."
Electricity production improved in the 2000s as the island began
spending an estimated $3.5 billion on smaller generators to counter the
steady deterioration of its larger and older plants, Cereijo noted.
But the smaller plants were only stopgap measures, he added, designed to
provide power to large institutions such as hospitals during
emergencies, not to work for long stretches at a time. Cubans also have
complained about their noxious exhaust fumes.
The island had 17 main generating plants in 1989 and now has only seven
that are working, Cereijo said. The most modern of its high-voltage
lines was installed in the 1970s and used outdated Soviet technology.
Three devastating hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008, and some of the damages
caused by Hurricane Sandy in the eastern part of Cuba last year, mostly
to lines and transformers, have yet to be repaired, according to reports
from dissidents in the region.
Uruguay just last month donated $300,000 worth of materials to fix
damage to the power grid caused by Sandy, which hit hardest Oct. 25 in
the city and province of Santiago de Cuba.
Underlining Cuba's need for more generating capacity, the government
announced in December that it had reopened its oldest hydro-power
generating station, built in 1912 in Pinar del Rio province, with new
A British firm, Havana Energy, also announced in November that it had
signed a deal with the Cuban government to produce energy on the island
from renewable sources, such as cane refuse and other vegetation.
Cuban officials gave no detailed explanation for the September blackout,
saying only that it was caused by an "interruption" in a high-voltage
line near the city of Ciego de Avila, about 250 miles east of Havana.
The outage blacked out the western half of the island, from Pinar del
Rio to the province of Villa Clara, for five to 12 hours. Other
blackouts were reported around the same times in the eastern end of the
island, but it was never clear if they were related.
Cuba's government news monopoly has also reported repeatedly on the
theft of materials from the electricity sector — from cables to
transmission towers as well as their steel and aluminum girders, nuts
and bolts — that cause smaller blackouts.