Alternative Energy in Cuba: Hopefully I’m WrongFebruary 18, 2013 | | Print |
HAVANA TIMES — An energy crisis is looming over the world, and Cuba’s not exempt. Basic commodities and food will become scarce — like during the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s — but there will also be crises related to politics, climate, health conditions, ethics and with our mental patterns of behavior.
In short, this all portends a return to our pre-industrial and pre-global past – back to the times of cholera and pirates.
No one knows for sure when the mega-blackouts will return? Within five years? A decade? Some scholars insist that by 2030 the world will be a mess, but poor and petroleum-importing countries (like ours) will go bankrupt sooner than that.
Of the 176,000 barrels of oil consumed in Cuba daily, a little more than half is imported (109,500 barrels according to estimates of the IndexMundi Petroleo Importaciones).
This data gives us a vague idea of ??the magnitude the crisis will reach once those supplies are disrupted. However the situation will actually be much worse, because the oil extracted from Cuban soil is inefficient.
It seems that our “salvation” will be our sun and culture.
Nature endowed Cuba with intense sunlight most of the year. Thanks to this, we don’t need heating or too many other resources to get through the winter. In addition, the sun and our climate favor the year round growth of food producing plants, raw materials and fuel.
The difficulty lies in the fact that traditional types of agriculture — non-intensive, without herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, and under the conditions of our eroded soils — are unlikely to sustain the 11 million people living on our alligator-shaped archipelago.
Each square meter of this green lizard receives a daily dose of solar radiation equivalent to about a quart of oil (5 kw/hour). However, the devices that generate electricity from the astro sun king are too exotic. These are applied in isolated cases, but for some unknown reason their use isn’t widespread.
Nor is it common to use more rustic devices that exploit the sun’s heat for domestic and industrial uses. Solar ovens — which are very useful and easy to construct — are largely unknown.
If we continue along this path, we’re going to have to forget about high-tech sun alternatives and we’ll end up making better alternative use of our sweltering and hot comrade of always.
It’s truly fortunate that the modernist plans of Cuban political leaders haven’t reached nearly as far as their original intentions. Thanks to this shortfall, what survives today is a culture of inventing, a well devised social networking community and an intransigent campesino tradition.
Thanks to those failings, today we have no mega-cities or nuclear plants – authentic time bombs in the scenario of an energy crisis.
These plans were frustrated, but they advanced fairly far. In a country where only half a century ago the majority of people was rural and where there presently doesn’t exist industrial or post-industrial development, it’s both astonishing and dangerous that only 14 percent of the population is agriculturally active.
True guajiros (campesinos) — those living in the margin of fossil fuels and building their own huts — are endangered, but they will be sources of practical wisdom when cities implode.
And as for our culture of crisis, we went through our last good training exercise in this just a couple of decades ago. It’s a shame that the arrival of oil from Venezuela caused us to throw away almost everything we learned back then. The majority of the blame belongs to…
The ruling elite
I believe that the technocrats and bureaucrats who run the country haven’t done much in terms of preparing for the crisis.
The “Energy Revolution,” initiated in 2005, promoted the conservation of combustible fuel and hard currency. Nevertheless, it devoted much of its resources to reviving the oil-dependent electrical system. It was evident that what our leaders had in mind was a scenario of cheap oil.
Today, oil-burning thermoelectric generating plants produce 93.9 percent of all electricity consumed in the country; in other words, we’re lining up our ducks on the same thin strand on which Chavez’s life is hanging.
As part of the Energy Revolution, little was done in terms of using renewable energy through the production of “green” electricity. There was a lot of talk and expectation, but we now have the numbers: Only 3.8 percent of our total electrical power comes from those sources.
In addition, the tendency was to import sophisticated and expensive equipment: wind turbines, an automatic plant for installation of solar panels, chic generators fed from landfills, a factory of solar heaters using empty glass cylinders, etc.
Thank God that they haven’t found a way to get a thermonuclear plant up and running, though not for a lack of trying. (see http://www.cubaenergia.cu/index.php/es/educacion-energetica/cursos-universidad-para-todos-relacionados-con-la-energia/doc_download/515-tabloide-curso-energia-y-cambio-climatico-ii-parte)
All this crap is nice and efficient, but it reinforces our technological dependence and our dependence (as citizens) on the government. Yet in whatever case — especially in a crisis environment — both dependencies are very dangerous.
I consider it vital for us to adopt a policy that promotes the development of more modest techniques and practices, ones consistent with the resources and raw materials of each locality and easy to implement at the community and family level.
I’m thinking of solar dryers and stoves, biogas mini-plants, water collectors and filters, permaculture, local waste management, mini-hydro-generators, urban agriculture, and training about all these alternatives, etc.
Could it be that the technocrats and bureaucrats are waging the struggle with expensive, high-profile, extravagant projects rather than ensuring the future and sovereignty of the nation?
In their speeches they talk excitedly about growth and development by involving the country with multi-million dollar companies (e.g. the free trade zone at the Mariel port).
Meanwhile, the official press doesn’t miss a beat in playing its traditional mistress role to perfection. They serve to strengthen the optimistic and developmental trend that justifies the burning of oil and “sustainable (economic) development,” despite the contradiction.
Articles have appeared in national newspapers attempting to deny all of this, in line with the more recalcitrant oil companies in the face of the impending peak oil crisis.
Wouldn’t it be great if people started looking for information on their own and began reducing their oil-dependency (personally, within our families and community wide).
As a civilization and as a nation, we’re just coming off an oil binge that has lasted almost a century. Now the hangover is starting, but tomorrow we will feel better.