Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Posted on Thursday, 08.01.13

Cuba’s 1st solar farm a step toward renewables

CANTARRANA, Cuba — It’s like a vision of the space age, carved out of
the jungle: Thousands of glassy panels surrounded by a lush canopy of
green stretch as far as the eye can see, reflecting the few clouds that
dot the sky on a scorching Caribbean morning.

Cuba’s first solar farm opened this spring with little fanfare and no
prior announcement. It boasts 14,000 photovoltaic panels which in a
stroke more than doubled the country’s capacity to harvest energy from
the sun.

The project, one of seven such farms in the works, shows a possible road
map to greater energy independence in cash-poor Cuba, where Communist
leaders are being forced to consider renewables to help keep the lights
on after four failed attempts to strike it rich with deep-water oil
drilling and the death of petro-benefactor Hugo Chavez.

“For us this is the future,” said Ovel Concepcion, a director with
Hidroenergia, the state-run company tasked with building the solar park
190 miles (300 kilometers) east of Havana in the central province of

“This is just like having an oil well,” he told The Associated Press on
a recent tour of the facility.

Outside experts have chastised Cuba for missing an opportunity to
develop alternative energy sources; just 4 percent of its electricity
comes from renewables. That lags behind not only standard-setter Germany
(25 percent) but also comparable, developing Caribbean nations such as
the Dominican Republic (14 percent).

Located on rural land unfit for farming, the solar park at Cantarrana,
which translates roughly as “where frogs sing,” is a tentative step
toward redressing that oversight.

Construction began at the end of last year, about the same time that
officials announced that a fourth exploratory offshore oil well drilled
in 2012 was a bust and the only rig in the world that can drill in the
deep waters off Cuba under U.S. embargo rules set sail with no return date.

In April, the solar farm came online and began contributing the first
solar power to the island’s energy grid. Cuba already had about 9,000
panels in use, but all of them were for small-scale, isolated usage such
as powering rural hamlets, schools and hospitals.

The solar farm now generates enough electricity to power 780 homes and
had saved the equivalent of 145 tons of fossil fuels, or around 1,060
barrels of crude, through the end of July. Peak capacity is expected to
hit 2.6 megawatts when the final panels are in place in September.

That’s just a drop in the energy bucket, of course.

Cuba gets about 92,000 barrels of highly subsidized oil per day from
Venezuela to meet about half its consumption needs, according to an
estimate by University of Texas energy analyst Jorge Pinon.

But hopes are high that solar can be a big winner in Cuba, which enjoys
direct sunlight year-round, allowing for consistent high yields of 5
kilowatt-hours per square meter of terrain.

“The possibility of solar energy on a large scale could contribute to
the island’s future energy security,” said Judith Cherni, an alternative
energy expert at the Imperial College London Center for Environmental
Policy who is familiar with Cuba’s efforts.

Six other solar parks will come online in the coming months in Havana
and the regions of Camaguey, Guantanamo, the Isle of Youth, Santiago and
Villa Clara, though Concepcion did not specify their size.

Concepcion did not say how much the Cantarrana park cost, but said the
industry standard for a facility of its size is $3 million to $4
million. The government, which controls nearly all economic activity in
Cuba, financed construction, and the panels were manufactured at a
factory in the western province of Pinar del Rio.

Cantarrana is already saving the island around $800 a day and Concepcion
said it should pay for itself after a little more than a decade into its
25-year expected lifespan.

The project is a notable change in mindset for a country that relies on
imports for half its energy consumption and is vulnerable to the
political ebb and flow in other countries.

After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s, a loss of
Soviet subsidies plunged Cuba into a severe crisis. Blackouts sometimes
darkened Havana for 12 hours at a time.

Chavez’s election in Venezuela in 1998 helped ease the crunch, but his
death this March made clear that Havana can hardly depend on the tap
staying open forever.

Chavez’s handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, has vowed to maintain the
special relationship with Cuba. But he won election by a razor-thin
margin, and the Venezuelan opposition will almost certainly cut the Cuba
subsidy if it wins power.

Pinon, of the University of Texas, predicted it will be at least three
to five years before serious deep-water oil drilling can resume in Cuba.

Cuba’s fuel uncertainty apparently prompted President Raul Castro to
issue a decree in December creating seven working groups to chart a
15-year plan to develop alternative energy including solar, wind,
biomass and others.

Cuba already has a handful of experimental wind farms and some small,
isolated hydroelectric facilities, though experts say Cuba’s shallow
rivers are not ideal for large-scale power generation. The island has
had the most success burning biomass from sugarcane, but harvests have
fallen in recent years.

According to a government report from May, the island hopes to get 10
percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

“The reality is that cheap, abundant oil is over, and we have to turn
toward these technologies,” said Vicente Estrada Cajigal, a specialist
on regional alternative energy initiatives and the former president of
Mexico’s National Association for Solar Energy. “That treasure in the
Gulf (of Mexico), I have my doubts.”

Estrada Cajigal said the cost of solar panels has fallen by 80 percent
in recent years, making it an ever more attractive option.

But other experts were cautious about how much photovoltaic energy can
contribute to the island.

Mexican energy consultant Francisco Acosta said that the shaky Cuban
economy’s intricate ties to fossil fuels are not easily undone, and the
country has no choice but to continue to rely heavily on petroleum and

Solar “is a good idea, but to a certain point. … In a country like
Cuba, stable energy is that which comes from hydrocarbons,” Acosta said.

Cherni said unanswered questions remain about how Cuba will fund its
alternative energy ambitions. But she said the island’s goal for 2030
seems about right, given that more-developed nations with greater
resources are committing to 15 or 20 percent from renewables by 2020.

“So 10 percent is a good start,” Cherni said.

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:

Source: “CANTARRANA, Cuba: Cuba’s 1st solar farm a step toward
renewables – Technology –” –

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