La Revolución Energética: Cuba's Next Revolution

This article was first featured as a LinkedIn post from Canadian Solar CEO Dr. Shawn Qu:

Every year over 844,000 “snow birds” fly from Canada to Cuba for sunny vacations, a majority of them stay at all-inclusive resorts. While enjoying the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean island, we Canadians often take all the supply to the resorts for granted.

The cost of energy needed to power and cool the resorts can be more than one would imagine. Cuba heavily depends on imported fossil fuels to generate electricity, the country consumes 7.6 million tons of oil per year. Meeting such demand can be challenging -  power outage is common even in the big cities such as Havana. On Sept 10, 2012, millions of people remained in darkness overnight after power went out across a large swath of western Cuba. The outage affected the capital, home to about 2 million people, and the popular beach resorts of Varadero. To deal with the outages , additional 6,000 small backup diesel generators were installed for critical facilities. It is hard for a tourist to imagine the many dirty generators needed to energize the pristine island.

U.S. president Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that his country was going to normalize relations with Cuba and he eventually visited Cuba in March 2016. It was the first visit of a sitting U.S. president for 88 years. Although the long-standing embargo has not been lifted by U.S. Congress yet, analysts are already forecasting millions of additional U.S. travelers to visit Cuba annually. Local business shall thrive accordingly, however, this would no doubt put more pressure on the island’s electrical generation capacity and its environmental impact.

On the other hand, Cuba has a vast and free source of energy - solar. Throughout the year, Cuba receives an average value of 5 kWh/m² solar energy per day, which is equivalent to the energy content of half a liter of petroleum per square meter per day. The Embassy of Canada in Cuba has a forward-looking vision of green energy and wanted to promote solar energy by installing a solar system on top of their facility in Havana. Canadian Solar had the opportunity to design and deploy a 12.48 kW roof top solar system on one of the embassies’ buildings. The system was connected to the grid in October 2015 and is expected to harvest 19.26 MWh of green energy per year, offsetting approximately 10 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The whole system has been especially designed to be resistant against hurricanes and salt mist corrosion, as Havana experiences a four-month hurricane season and is close to the ocean. These are baby steps compared to the large solar farms in other countries, but it is the first urban solar installation in Cuba and it’s drawing a lot of attention as a showcase project for Cuba’s ongoing energy revolution.

Standing on the roof of the embassy besides the solar array, you can see the sparkling ocean under the sun. With today’s solar technology, we can help the country and many others reduce their reliance on dirty fuel,  conserve their natural environment and keep the water pristine to remember Ernest Hemingway’s passion for fishing.

“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for. “—The Old Man and the Sea

La Habana, Cuba

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