Taking the pulse of Cuba’s push to renewable energy

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Argelia Balboa Monzón, senior advisor for renewable energies with Cuba's Ministry of Energy and Mines. Photo by Bahare Khodabande.

Argelia Balboa Monzón, senior advisor for renewable energies with Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines. Photo by Bahare Khodabande.

As Cuba aggressively courts foreign investment in its energy sector, renewable energy is at the top of the list. Cuba Trade recently sat down in Havana with Argelia Balboa Monzón, senior advisor for renewable energies with Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, to get her take on where the sector is heading going forward. Here are some excerpts from our interview with Balboa Monzón.

 

CT: How would you describe the changes in energy policy in Cuba over the last decade?

Since 2005 we have had something of a revolution in seeking greater efficiency, in trying to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and in seeking to develop new energy sources… We started to work by changing thousands of refrigerators, thousands of televisions, air conditioners and so on [to allow] a considerable decrease in fossil fuel consumption. At that time, a multidisciplinary group was created for the study of the development of wind energy at the Universidad Tecnológica de la Habana José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE). They created a wind map of Cuba.

A factory had already been constructed to produce photovoltaic solar panels, but in very small quantities… That factory nowadays produces 15 megawatt photovoltaic panels and there has been an investment to produce 65 megawatt solar panels… So there has been a positive shift since 2005, under the direction of the country, to do this type of work. And Cuba has also always been of the opinion that the environment is very important.

In the 1980s, there was a large boom in the construction of bio-plants, mostly small producers. In terms of hydroenergy, we do not have big rivers. We are a narrow, long island that does not have large bodies of water. But we have a policy to take advantage of what we do have, especially in mountain areas. We now have more than 132 small hydroelectric power stations that generate electricity.

Where are we today? Today we have a policy for the development of renewable energy and increased efficiency, and the country has several programs: A wind program, a solar-photovoltaic program, a hydro-energy program, a biomass program, etc.

CT: The government said it wants to increase the share of energy produced by renewable sources from 4 percent now to 24 percent in 2030. What is the mix you are looking for within this 24 percent in terms of biomass, solar, hydroelectric, wind etc?

Biomass is going to be the most important…Today we still have 57 plants [for potential use in biomass energy]. Thus, 6 percent of this 24 percent should constitute biomass… [Eventually] biomass must contribute 14 percent [of all energy]. Then there is wind energy and solar energy, as well.

CT: What are the financial approaches? Which countries will be the best contributors?

The financing of our development of renewable energy requires an adequate combination of both state credits and foreign investment. We have Law 118 (passed in 2014) which describes all the ways we can have foreign investment. And our main socio-economic partner is no secret: It is China, which also has significant experience in the development of renewable energy, with both solar and wind technology. But we do not refuse foreign investment from any source—that is according to our foreign investment law. We can talk. Other countries are also negotiating. We have at this time plans to build 14 wind parks. Of these 14, eleven will be built with foreign investment, from countries that include Spain and Holland, as well as China.

CT: What measures are being adapted to facilitate the process of approving and financing foreign investments?

We have Law 118 regulating all of that—and it is transparent. We are working in that direction. We have a portfolio of investment opportunities that was highlighted at the Havana International Fair [which took place in November of last year]. We have been collecting proposals for three years—that is, we offer and say that we want to build such and such parks, and in such and such provinces. And we have the special zones of development like Mariel [a 180-square-mile free trade and development zone near Havana].

CT: Are there specific geographic areas for energy investment in Cuba?

In terms of wind energy, for example, although there is wind elsewhere the highest velocity from what we have studied so far is along the north-east coast, in places like Gibara, Las Tunas, Holguín, and Maisí, and there are four park projects already in discussion with a foreign company. There is very good wind capacity that can reach factors of very high indices [of energy production], a capacity of 36-37 percent [for regional power requirements], and in times of winter it can reach up to 40 percent in the area of Gibara. And in the Punta de Maisí (in Cuba’s Guantánamo Province), it is better still because there the wind blows with great force. It is a zone privileged by the wind in the country, you might say.

As for the sun, it strikes Cuba everywhere more or less with the same intensity. We have some provinces that are hit more intensely, however, and that has been studied by the Instituto de Meteorología de Cuba (Cuban Meteorology Institute). There is more sun in some areas of the provinces of Granma and Cienfuegos where it is a bit more intense. But definitely the zone where we are located, near the equator, receives something like, on average, 5 kilowatts per square meter per hour of intensity. We are going to take advantage of everything and we intend to continue studying some sources that can help us do so.

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