Cuba can boast of the utilization of renewable energy to provide electricity to some 2,000 schools and at least 400 hospitals in rural areas which are not plugged directly into the grid.

Critics believe however that more proactive measures can be adopted to boost the contribution of renewables to the nations energy demand from a mere 3.8% to double digits. For example, neighboring Dominican Republic has approximately 14% of its electricity demands met via alternative energy. It is believe that this respectable figure achieved by Dominican Republic is largely due to tax breaks established by government in 2007 to boost investment in renewable energy.

It is vital for Cuba to expand its energy horizons “so it doesn’t remain at the mercy of political changes in the region that could affect it adversely” says Judith Cherni, an alternative energy expert at the Imperial College London Center for Environmental Policy. It’s all the more critical for Cuba to increase their reliance on renewable energy as the country may not be able to rely much longer on its heavily subsidized supply of oil from Venezuela due to the precarious state of health of Hugo Chavez who is currently battling cancer. Another wake up call for Cuba to reduce its fossil fuel dependence is from one of the exploratory wells dug by the Spanish Company Repsol in the Gulf of Mexico which was thought to be oil laden but which tuned out to be dry.

Cuba is a nation that is dependent on oil, yes, but in addition the culture of its leaders, technicians and of its common citizens is one of fossil fuels” said Alejandro Montesinos, director of Cubasolar, the island’s chief NGO for sustainable energy.”In the imagination of the people, there is this idea that oil is going to appear in the Gulf  of Mexico and this country’s problems will be solved'” stated Mostesinos who also added that Cuba and its leaders must embrace the idea that expensive investments in solar and wind energy will pay off in the long run.

Historically, Cuba embarked on an alternative energy programme in the 1980s and proceeded to ramp it up over the subsequent decade. To date, 9,000 solar panels and 4 experimental wind farms have been set-up nationwide .Cuba also makes use of biomass from sugarcane which constitutes the islands largest contributor to renewable energy.

Efforts are being made by Cuban authorities to inaugurate a wind farm on the islands north coast next year. This is to be coupled with plans to install a 1MW solar farm on the Island of Youth at the start for 2013. Officials plan to boost Cuba’s renewable energy generation to 16.5% by 2020.

Excerpts from:The Associated Press, Solar, wind energy a missed opportunity for Cuba, July 05, 2012