Cuban Innovator Uses Sunlight to Create Sustainable Space Model – Global Issues

Félix Morffi, an 84-year-old pensioner, shows the solar heater and solar panels installed on the roof of his house in Regla municipality, Havana. He hopes that his house will soon become an experimental site for the use of renewable energy, and students will learn about this topic on site. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS
  • by Luis Brizuela (Havana)
  • Interpress service

With two tanks, glass, aluminum sheets, cinder blocks, sand and cement, the 84-year-old pensioner created a solar heater for his household needs in 2006, which he proudly displays.

“You build it today and you have hot water tomorrow; anyone can do it, and if they have a little advice, the better,” said the retired mid-level machine and tool repair technician.

Magnet treats water magnetically using a system that cleans it and makes it suitable for human consumption without additional energy costs.

The roof of the house also has a cluster of 16 photovoltaic panels imported in 2019, which provides five kilowatts of power (kWp) and supports the work of his small auto repair shop, where he works on state-owned companies and private vehicles.

It is an independent venture that Morffi runs on part of his land in Regla, one of Havana’s 15 municipalities.

In addition to covering the household needs of his family, he supplies his excess electricity to the national grid, or the national electricity system (SEN).

As part of the contract with Unión Eléctrica de Cuba, under the Ministry of Energy and Mines, we get “an average of over 2,000 pesos per month (about $83 at the official exchange rate), more or less the same amount we pay for our consumption in the same period,” Morffi said at his home for excess energy. In an interview with IPS.

But he said the 12.5 cents per kilowatt of energy supplied to special needs might need to be raised if the government wants more people to go solar.

Since 2014, Cuba has had a policy of developing renewable energy sources and their efficient use, and in 2019, Decree Law 345 established regulations to increase the share of renewable energy sources in electricity production and to continuously reduce the share of fossil fuels.

Other regulations have been added, such as the one that exempts foreign companies implementing sustainable electricity generation projects from taxes on their profits for eight years.

Other decisions seek to encourage self-sufficiency through decentralized production by selling excess energy to people with special needs, as well as tariff exemptions for non-commercial imports of photovoltaic systems, their parts and components.

Great solar potential

According to research, Cuba receives an average high level of solar radiation of more than five kilowatts per square meter per day. This archipelago of more than 110,800 square kilometers has enormous potential, with an average of 330 sunny days a year.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, about $500 million has been invested by the end of 2021 to increase the share of solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power sources.

The solar energy program appears to be the most advanced and has the best potential for growth.

Solar parks operating in the country provide 238 megawatts, which is more than 75 percent of renewable energy produced locally.

In addition, more than 160,000 of the country’s 3.9 million homes, mostly in remote mountain areas, get electricity from solar modules, statistics show.

However, clean sources account for barely five percent of the island’s electricity production, a prospect the authorities want to radically change, setting an ambitious goal of 37 percent by 2030.

Cuba, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel imports and plagued by cyclical energy shortages, is a matter of national security.

The island has been hit by an energy crisis, with blackouts of up to 12 hours or more in some places, as the network of 20 thermoelectric units, with an average life of 30 years, has deteriorated and needs frequent repairs.

Added to this is the increase in international prices of diesel fuel and heating oil, and a shortage of parts to keep the engines and generators running on these fuels running in Cuba’s 168 municipalities.

Applying the brakes

Government authorities point to the US embargo as a factor holding back the growth of renewable energy, accusing it of discouraging potential investors and preventing the purchase of modern components and technologies.

On the other hand, inflation, the partial dollarization of the economy and the acute shortage of basic goods, including food, deprive most families of many options to turn to the autonomous production of clean energy, even if they recognize its positive environmental impact.

One of the authorized state companies markets and installs 1.0 kWp solar panel systems for about $2,300 in a country where the average monthly wage is estimated at $160, although it is possible to apply for a bank loan to install them. .

People who spoke to IPS also mentioned difficulties in storing solar energy for use at night, during power outages or on cloudy or rainy days, given the very high cost of batteries.

Morffi said more training was needed for staff involved in several processes and cited delays of more than a year between the signing of the contract with Unión Eléctrica and the start of payments for energy surpluses generated by SEN, as well as “inconsistency”. in terms of assembling devices.

Although there is a national policy on renewables, there is still a lot of ignorance and very little desire to do things and do them well. Awareness is needed,” he argued.

Combining renewable energy

Morffi believes that despite economic conditions, people can take advantage of natural elements with a little ingenuity, because “the sun shines for everyone, the air is there and costs you nothing, but the wealth is in your brain.”

He shows off a dryer that uses the sun’s heat to dry fruits, spices and tubers, which he put together mainly from recycled materials such as wood chips, nylon, acrylic and aluminum sheets.

Other equipment will require significant investment, such as three small 0.5 kWp wind turbines that he plans to import and a new batch of 4.0 kWp photovoltaic solar panels for which he needs to apply for a bank loan.

At the back of his house is a small solar panel that keeps water flowing from a well for his garden birds and an artificial pond with a variety of ornamental fish and tilapia for the family to eat.

On his land, the construction of a small biodigester of about four cubic meters has also progressed, the purpose of which is to use the methane produced by the decomposition of animal manure for cooking.

According to Morff, who carries out these activities with the support of several family members, his home is a testing ground for the use of renewable energy.

A specialized classroom may be built there so that students can learn the subject on site.

So far in the design phase and in discussions with potential backers, this local development project could even install “solar heaters in places in the community like a doctor’s office, a day care center and a senior citizen cafe,” Morffi said.

He said that the idea should be supported by international donors, the municipality of Regla and Cubasolar, a non-governmental association dedicated to the promotion of renewable energy and environmental protection, of which Morffi has been a member since 2004.

“We are willing to advise anyone who wants to install solar panels, heaters or dryers, anything related to renewable energy. We have knowledge and experience and have something to contribute,” he said.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — all rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service