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Cubas Blackouts, an Dark Episode of the Past
Millions in investments in the production and distribution of electric power, as well as the delivery of more than 22 million new energy-saving appliances have signaled the "Energy Revolution" carried out in Cuba over the last few years

It was May 2004 when Cubas national power grid took a tremendous hit: a breakdown occurred during regular maintenance at the Antonio Guiteras Power Plant in Matanzas.

While previously supplying approximately fifteen percent of the nations entire electrical output, the shortage rippled throughout the already weak and aging power system to force some 120 industries to curtail production. Citizens suffered prolonged blackouts and stifling hot summer nights while the maintenance cycles of the countrys remaining power plants were delayed.

Over the following year, problems persisted as the public suffered 248 days of blackouts of more than one hour and shortfalls of up to 100 megawatts.

Today, however, the resolution of that crisis is becoming ever more palpable as the result of a national mobilization to produce and distribute sufficient energy while simultaneously rationalizing its consumption.

To date, there has been an almost total elimination of the exasperating blackouts. This, however, is hardly the tip of the iceberg of a process that began when a barrel of petroleum cost $46 dollars and is now edging closer to $100, explained Cubas minister of Basic Industry, Yadira García Vera, on the Round Table current affairs television program.

Only four years ago the Cuban electric system was characterized by eleven major electric plants producers, many of them more than 20 years old, highly inefficient and beset with maintenance problems owing to their dependence on technology from the by then non-existent Soviet camp.

That situation, explained by Vicente de la O, executive director of the Electric Union, was worsened by the affects of a series of disasters, such as hurricanes and flooding, and the impact of the world increase in the price of oil. In the face of those inescapable realities, a wide-ranging plan of actions was adopted conceived as the islands "Energy Revolution."

The islands energy czar explained that one of the first actions was the installation of groups of container-sized emergency generators throughout the country. Close to 6,500 of these units were installed that today support 4,778 vital services and centers. These also serve as a partial backup to the national grid, because they are centrally controlled within the National Electric System and can be activated should the need arise.

Likewise, long-term planning efforts are underway that aim for all provinces to be able to cover their own demand. In addition to the new generating units and traditional thermoelectric plants, there are plans to produce electricity from gas or using other ecological alternatives, such as wind and water energy.

As De la O explained, distributed generation has several advantages, which include more rapid assembly, less expensive investment, lower fuel consumption, decreases in transmission losses, decreased generating inputs and the possibility of moving units to places with greater need.

Although since May 2006 the energy production deficit has been eliminated, the country has continued to make investments in this sector. Close to 700 fuel motors were put on line to generate more than 1.7 megawatts. These are much sturdier, use a less expensive fuel, have an average of useful life of up to 25 years and can be maintained over many years on a 24-hour basis without interruption. In addition, investment is continuing in the use of gas accompanying existing oil wells and that from new discoveries.

All of this has cost more than 254 million dollars in technology alone, without counting the expenses related to fuel storage, truck and railroad transport, training, tools or in the control system of the electric system, which was completely redesigned.
Attention is also being focused on recovery through energy savings, said De la O, something that is already showing results. Blackouts have been effectively eliminated and the country is today in position to generate 4.7 megawatts - 60 percent of this using energy-efficient methods. Moreover, these can withstand hurricanes, breakdowns or any paralysis of the large thermoelectric plants without the electric service being incapacitated.

(Cuban Newspapers Online)

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