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Cuba Leapfrogs the World With Sustainable Solar Energy

In two short years, energy-smart Cuba has bolted past every country on the planet. the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has declared Cuba to be the only country on the planet that is pproaching sustainable development. Key to this designation is the island’s Revolución Energética, an energy conservation effort launched only two years ago. For two decades, Cuba has been developingrenewable energy and energy-conservation strategies to cope with the fuel shortage. Educating citizens about energy conservation has been one of Cuba’s programs to move toward a more sustainable energy future.

The solutions to Cuba’s energy problems were not easy. Without money, it couldn’t invest in nuclear power and new conventional fossil fuel plants or even large-scale wind and solar energy systems. Instead, the country focused on reducing energy consumption and implementing small-scale renewable energy projects.

Ecosol Solar and Cuba Solar are two renewable energy organizations leading the way. They help develop markets for renewable energy, sell and install systems, perform research, publish newsletters, and do energy efficiency studies for large users.Ecosol Solar has installed 1.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic in both small household systems (200 watt capacity) and large systems (15-50 kilowatt capacity). In the United States 1.2 megawatts would provide electricity to about 1000 homes, but can supply power to significantly more houses in Cuba where appliances are few, conservation is the custom, and the homes are much smaller.

About 60 percent of Ecosol Solar’s installations go to social programs to power homes, schools, medicals facilities, and community centers in rural Cuba. It recently installed solar photovoltaic panels to electrify 2,364 primary schools throughout rural Cuba where it was not cost effective to take the grid. In addition, it is developing compact model solar water heaters that can be assembled in the field, water pumps powered by PV panels, and solar dryers.

A visit to “Los Tumbos,” a solar-powered community in the rural hills southwest of Havana demonstrates the positive impact that these strategies can have. Once without electricity, each household now has a small solar panel that powers a radio and a lamp. Larger systems provide electricity to the school, hospital, and community room, where residents gather to watch the evening news program called the “Round Table.” Besides keeping the residents informed, the television room has the added benefit of bringing the community together.

“The sun was enough to maintain life on earth for millions of years,” said Bruno Beres, a director of Cuba Solar. “Only when we [humans] arrived and changed the way we use energy was the sun not enough. So the problem is with our society, not with the world of energy.”

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