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Electricity crisis in Cuba reinforces the need to accelerate the energy transition - IPS Cuba

Electricity crisis in Cuba reinforces the need to accelerate the energy transition - IPS Cuba

Havana, Oct 1.- With an aging infrastructure and tensions in fuel availability, Cuba sees the crisis in its electricity generation system worsen, which could accelerate plans to increase the contribution of renewable energies.

In recent weeks, service cuts have become widespread in the 15 provinces of this Caribbean island country, with additional impact and discomfort for families.

The breakdown of several of the eight thermoelectric plants and the postponement of maintenance in 18 of its 20 generating blocks cause the generation deficits, indicate authorities.

Added to this are breakdowns in distribution systems - lines, substations, transformers - due to the lack of spare parts.

Cuba produces half of the fuel that is burned in several of its thermoelectric plants, but another significant percentage depends on purchases abroad.

As part of bilateral agreements, the island should receive around 53,000 daily barrels of oil and derivatives from Venezuela, but the sinking of the South American country into its own crisis makes shipments irregular, media outlets report, while the local government does not contribute figures about it.

A decrease in the volumes of gas accompanying oil, used for the generation of facilities on the northwestern coast, is also reported, a deficit that can only be overcome through the exploitation of new hydrocarbon wells, recognize directors of the sector.

“The operating reserves of the electrical system are low and have sometimes been below what is required to cover the energy demand of consumers, for which the impact on the electrical service is necessary and unavoidable,” he said on 14 September during a television appearance the Minister of Energy and Mines, Liván Arronte.

For Cuban families, the current crisis is reminiscent of the prolonged electricity cuts of the early 1990s, when after the collapse of the then Soviet Union, the island lost its main fuel supplier.

In September 2019, another energy trance occurred when the government of former President Donald Trump (2017-Jan 2021) ordered special actions to prevent the arrival of tankers to the island, as part of measures to reinforce the economic and financial embargo that the United States imposes on the island. Cuba since 1962.

“The US government has dedicated itself to threatening and blackmailing the companies that supply fuel to Cuba, and they constitute a qualitative leap in the intensification and application of unconventional measures in which they are dedicated to their international transport, without having the authority to do so. legal or moral, "criticized the 2020 annual report on the blockade, as the embargo is called internally.

Crisis eléctrica en Cuba refuerza necesidad de acelerar la transición energética - IPS Cuba

The authorities insist that the sanctions complicate access to credit to purchase parts and other supplies, which delays the necessary maintenance cycles of thermal plants.

The diminished Cuban coffers are also not in a position to assume overspending, given the drag of three decades of economic crisis and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic that forced them to prioritize the purchase of medical supplies and food.

The electrical energy infrastructure is considered critical and the still high dependence on external fuel constitutes a vulnerability and conspires against the projected energy sovereignty and independence of the nation, analysts warn.

old infrastructure

Cuba has a potential of more than 6,500 MW/h installed, but the real generation capacity is barely half, and when several units are disconnected from the National Electric System (SEN), it is impossible to satisfy the maximum demand of 3,300 to 3,500 MW /h.

The country has eight thermal plants with 20 generation blocks and a total capacity of about 2,600 MW/h, equivalent to 40 percent of the electricity that can be generated in this country of 11.2 million inhabitants.

Several of them assimilate the very heavy Cuban crude (between 7 and 18 degrees API), whose sulfur content of 7 to 8 percent increases corrosion in the boilers and forces the cycles between maintenance to be reduced from 50 to 70 days. in the year.

Cuba has an oil and accompanying gas production equivalent to 3.5 million tons per year (22 million barrels), of which 2.6 million tons (16.3 million barrels) of crude oil and approximately one thousand million cubic meters of natural gas, according to 2020 data released by official media.

This network of plants constitutes the backbone of a system that is complemented in the 15 provinces with fuel engines and diesel generator sets, also affected by the lack of parts and where part of the 150 to 200 million dollars a month that are bought in fuels, according to official information.

The rest of the electricity generation is completed with almost eight percent from the accompanying gas of local oil, five percent from renewable sources and three percent in floating units (patanas) that also require fossil fuels, in the Mariel Bay, 45 kilometers west of Havana.

With the exception of one, the thermoelectric plants, built mostly with technology from the extinct socialist camp of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, exceed 30 to 35 years of useful life, and the capital repair of each block requires 40 to 80 million dollars, executives in the sector need.

To alleviate the current crisis, the government announced, among other actions, an investment program aimed at reactivating the generation potential that is not used today and prioritizing the staggered maintenance program.

“Within the projects of this strategy, four thermal generation blocks of 200 MW/h each stand out, which will use national crude oil and… today there are 3,500 MW/h being managed in different stages to implement projects with renewable sources that have been affected. due to the current circumstance,” said Arronte.

Renewable energies: lights and shadows

Since 2014, the Cuban government approved the "Policy for the prospective development of renewable energy sources (FRE) and the efficient use of energy until 2030", which aims to progressively reduce the use of fossil fuels and facilitate that 24 per cent cent of the energy comes from clean sources in that year.

This policy also aims to encourage foreign investment, both in large and small local projects, with the aim of improving energy efficiency and self-sufficiency, with facilities mostly connected to the SEN.

Some estimates indicate that having more than 2,000 MW/h through new RES capacities within nine years will require financing of more than 3 billion dollars.

Decree-Law No. 345 of 2019 on the development of the FRE contains incentives to promote self-sufficiency from clean energy, the sale of surpluses to the SEN, as well as tariff and fiscal benefits for natural and legal persons that use them.

The standard also proposes installing the most efficient LED lights in public lighting, the sale of solar water heaters and efficient equipment, while public welfare campaigns insist on energy saving as a source of resources in itself.

Cuba ended 2020 with an installed capacity of almost 300 MW/h from the RES, some of whose facilities had the support of international projects and entities.

The increase in RES could mean for the island the annual substitution of 2.3 million tons of fossil fuel in electricity generation and a reduction of eight million tons in carbon dioxide emissions, according to some studies.

However, these perspectives collide with the high cost of technologies to process light from the sun, wind, water and biomass.

In the Cuban case, which contemplates the exploitation of all these sources, the photovoltaic solar program appears as the most advanced, in a country with an average solar radiation of more than five kilowatts per square meter per day, considered high.

At the end of July, resolutions were published for natural persons to import free of customs taxes and without commercial purposes, photovoltaic systems, as well as equipment, parts and pieces that generate or function as renewable energy sources.

Some chain stores also sell solar panels with prices that exceed $1,500 per unit, compared to a monthly salary that ranges from a minimum of $87 to a maximum of close to $400.

Although there is the possibility of the state buying surplus energy from private consumers, citizens consulted by IPS consider that the amount to acquire and set up a photovoltaic system and the several years to recover the investment still do not make it sufficiently stimulating.

Another pending issue remains the availability of capacities to accumulate this energy and use it at night.

ED: EG

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