CUBA

UM professor: Cuba’s electricity has been sagging for years

 

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Cuba’s electricity sector has been going steadily downhill in the past five or six years because of bad investments, lack of controls and hurricane damages, according to an updated report by a University of Miami professor.

“They had a little improvement until 2005 or 2006, but since then it’s been falling,” said Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electrical engineering who has long monitored the sector and written several reports on its activity.

Cereijos’ latest figures show that the electricity lost between the generating plants and consumers rose from 18 percent of power generated in 2005 to 30 percent last year, compared to about 5 percent in other countries.

The number of days with blackouts rose from 100 to 125 in the same period, he reported, and the total time of interruptions in the system rose from 480,000 hours in 2008 to 900,000 hours last year.

Meanwhile, peak demand rose steadily, from 2,200 megawatts to 3,500 megawatts, leading to interruptions and other problems. The island today needs an immediate addition of 500 megawatts in generating capacity, Cereijo added.

Cuba was hit by a growing string of blackouts last summer, capped by a massive outage in September that left an estimated 5 million people without power for up to 12 hours in the western half of the island.

Cereijo said he gathers his figures from the Cuban government’s own National Statistics Office (ONE), electricity sector employees who defected and now live abroad and companies that sell equipment to the island, among others.

A retired deputy dean of the engineering faculty at Florida International University, Cereijo wrote a lengthy report on Cuba’s power sector in 2011. He will present an update at UM on April 17.

Electricity generation and distribution on the island were hard hit in the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped sending cheap oil and spare parts for the island’s Soviet-made equipment.

Cubans joked at the time they had more darkness than light, and called the occasional return of power “light-ins.”

Electricity production improved in the 2000s as the island began spending an estimated $3.5 billion on smaller generators to counter the steady deterioration of its larger and older plants, Cereijo noted.

But the smaller plants were only stopgap measures, he added, designed to provide power to large institutions such as hospitals during emergencies, not to work for long stretches at a time. Cubans also have complained about their noxious exhaust fumes.

The island had 17 main generating plants in 1989 and now has only seven that are working, Cereijo said. The most modern of its high-voltage lines was installed in the 1970s and used outdated Soviet technology.

Three devastating hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008, and some of the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy in the eastern part of Cuba last year, mostly to lines and transformers, have yet to be repaired, according to reports from dissidents in the region.

Uruguay just last month donated $300,000 worth of materials to fix damage to the power grid caused by Sandy, which hit hardest Oct. 25 in the city and province of Santiago de Cuba.

Underlining Cuba’s need for more generating capacity, the government announced in December that it had reopened its oldest hydro-power generating station, built in 1912 in Pinar del Rio province, with new Chinese technology.

A British firm, Havana Energy, also announced in November that it had signed a deal with the Cuban government to produce energy on the island from renewable sources, such as cane refuse and other vegetation.

Cuban officials gave no detailed explanation for the September blackout, saying only that it was caused by an “interruption” in a high-voltage line near the city of Ciego de Avila, about 250 miles east of Havana.

The outage blacked out the western half of the island, from Pinar del Rio to the province of Villa Clara, for five to 12 hours. Other blackouts were reported around the same times in the eastern end of the island, but it was never clear if they were related.

Cuba’s government news monopoly has also reported repeatedly on the theft of materials from the electricity sector — from cables to transmission towers as well as their steel and aluminum girders, nuts and bolts — that cause smaller blackouts.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

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