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Cuba Invests in Wind Energy

Wind energy is an indirect result of solar energy. Cuba plans to continue taking advantage of this renewable energy source

By: Mario Alberto Arrastía Ávila*



In school we learn that the sun is the source of energy that gives us light and warms up the planet. We also learn that this heat varies from place to place depending on the amount of solar radiation, affecting the temperature of the air. Warm air is lighter and rises, while cold air is heavier and falls. This is what generates local winds. On a global scale, the difference of solar radiation between the poles and the equator, together with the earth’s rotation, cause the movement of high and low pressure air masses, giving rise to winds. Thus, wind energy is an indirect result of solar energy. It is renewable, free and cannot be blockaded. On the down side, is that it is intermittent and variable.

Around two percent of the world’s solar energy is transformed into wind energy. Nevertheless, only a small part of this can be used, since the strongest winds occur at very high altitudes and over the oceans.

Harvesting Wind: Ancient and Modern Times

Wind energy has been used over time to move ships, grind grains and extract water. Ancient Egyptian engravings show the use of wind energy to propel boats and both the Phoenicians and the Romans used wind in this way. Today, environmental and economic factors have led to the resurgence in the use of wind energy to propel boats, including large computer-controlled sails.

Windmills were first used in ancient Persia, in what is today Iran, in 650 C.E. by the end of the 12th century, they expanded throughout Europe and were eventually brought to the Americas where they were used, especially, in Brazil beginning in the 16th century.

The same system used in these windmills and be used to pump water or generate electricity. When they are used to generate electricity they are called air-generators or wind turbines.

US inventor Charles F. Brush made history in 1888 when he built the first continuously-functioning wind turbine to generate electricity. The equipment used a rotor with a diameter of 17 meters and 144 cedar blades. It generated around 12kW and he used it to charge batteries in his basement.

Denmark, currently ninth largest wind energy producer, began in 1892 the first national program in the world for the production of wind-generated electricity. One hundred years later, it is the first country to install an offshore wind farm.

Increasing Expansion

Wind-generated energy is the fastest growing renewable energy sector, competing with conventional non-renewable technologies such as fossil fuels and nuclear energy. In 2008, wind turbines generated approximately 260 TWh, or 1.5 percent of the electricity produced worldwide. According to the World Wind Energy Association, the global installed wind power capacity exceeds 121 GW. Seventy-six countries use it to generate electricity.

The USA is the world’s number one wind-energy producer generating enough power this way to meet the demand of 4.5 million homes. In 2007, it increased this sector by 49 percent and has a total capacity of 25 GW today. It is closely followed by Germany, with 24 GW, followed by Spain and China. The American Wind Energy Association reports that in 2008 wind-generated energy prevented the emission of 36 million tonnes of CO2.

Half of the 20 largest wind farms in the world are in the United States. The largest is in Texas with a generating a capcity of 736 MW. The offshore wind farm operating in the deepest waters in the world today is one located 23 miles off the coast of Holland. The foundations of its turbines are at a depth of between 19 and 24 meters.

Experts estimate that by 2010 the world will have a combined installed wind power capacity of 170 GW. Countries like the Holland, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany are looking out to the sea for future wind farms.

Myths and the Environment

There is no completely clean energy technology in the world; not even the renewable ones. However, wind energy is among the cleanest, generating no Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) or toxic wastes, and no water is needed for cooling, as in thermal stations.

By 2020, the use of wind energy to generate electricity will eliminate the emission of some 10 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. China and India represent 90 percent of the projects under the Clean Development Mechanism, one of the methods included in the Kyoto Protocol for reducing the GHGs emissions. Both countries plan to use this method to build a combined wind-generated energy capacity of 17 GW.

Critics of the wind-generated technology, including some environmentalists, argue that air-generators are noisy, kill birds, do not significantly address climate change, and generate less energy than what is used to make them. According to a website of the Canadian Association of Wind Energy, generators are produced under strict norms that guarantee reduced noise levels. In addition, researchers carry out studies on the environmental impact including the interaction of species with the turbines. Several studies on this topic are being developed in Europe and North America. In the United States, there is an average of two bird deaths per turbine per year. A wind park in the Cuban municipality of Isla de la Juventud can avoid to 1,200 tons of GHG yearly. After the first six to twelve months, an air-generator will produce the amount of energy used to build it and continues generating energy for 20 to 25 years.

Development in Cuba

According to the World Association of Wind Energy, Cuba is number 61 in terms of wind-generated energy. The first wind in Isla Turiguanó, Ciego de Ávila has two generators that produce 225 kW.

One of the goals of the Cuban Energy Revolution is to foster wind-generated energy, and the country is hard at work putting together a wind potential map of the country. A park is currently being erected called Gibara 2, after which the country will have a combined capacity of 11.7 MW. After ten years, Cuba could produce as much as 2,000 MW. The threat of hurricanes is the most difficult factor to deal with. In 2008, hurricanes caused extensive damage to the Los Canarreos wind park on Isla de la Juventud, and in the Gibara 1 park the control plant was destroyed by hurricanes.

The author is specialists at CUBAENERGÍA and member of CUBASOLAR.



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