The Caribbean doubles its installed renewable power capacity in ten years

The Caribbean doubles its installed renewable power capacity in ten years


31 | 01 | 2023


Cuba stagnates in renewable electricity production due to drop in sugar cane production for biofuel and lack of investment in other sources of energy

In the picture

Harvesting sugar cane in Cuba [Pixabay].

The insular nature of the Antilles has traditionally been a serious disadvantage in terms of energy security, especially in the case of small islands, without mountains where there is coal or which generate rushing rivers. But even in some of the Greater Antilles, such as Cuba or Haiti, with better initial conditions, there is a long history of lack of electricity supply. The increase in renewable energy capacity in the Caribbean is an important step forward, albeit with uneven progress. The Dominican Republic and Jamaica have made a B leap in renewable electricity generation; production in Cuba, on the other hand, has stagnated, aggravating the country's energy supply problems.

In the picture

Chart taken from IRENA website

In the last decade, installed renewable energy capacity in the Caribbean region has doubled from 2,299 MW in 2014 to 4,558 MW in 2021. In that time, solar energy has grown the most, surpassing more traditional sources, such as hydro and biomass, as of 2020. While waterfall power generation capacity has barely changed (from 1,114 MW in 2014 to 1,152 MW in 2021), installation from biomass has almost doubled (reaching 1,165 MW in 2021); however, the progress has been greater for solar power, increasing almost sevenfold (from 230 MW in 2014 to 1,537 MW in 2021), according to the data of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Among the Antilles, the countries with the largest installed capacity in the field of renewable energy are the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica. All three have doubled their capacity in the last ten years, but curiously Cuba has not done the same in terms of production. According to agreement with the latest report annual IRENA report, in 2021 the Dominican Republic had an installed capacity of 1,532 MW; Cuba, 1,281 MW; and Jamaica, 254 MW (in 2014 it was 717 MW, 594 MW and 96 MW, respectively). But Cuba did not use these capacities to make a similar leap in terms of production, and in 2020 generated 862 GWh, below what was achieved in the peaks of 2013 and 2016, maintaining in any case a fairly flat evolution throughout these ten years. For its part, the Dominican Republic, with only slightly higher installed capacity, in 2020 produced 3,084 GWh, almost four times more than Cuba. Thus, while in Cuba renewable energy does not rise above 4.5% of total electricity generation (despite goal of 24% by 2030, which the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel continues to defend), in the Dominican Republic it is 14.6% and in Jamaica 13.5%.

In addition to standing out for the low development of renewables, Cuba also distinguishes itself from its neighbors in maintaining the weight of bioenergy (the use of sugar cane to create fuel constituted 65% of renewable production in 2020), while both Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have a growing development of wind power (43% and 35% of renewable generation, respectively), without losing sight of the weight of the hydroelectric sector (the largest renewable source in the Dominican Republic, with 43%). In all three countries, solar energy is currently less present than in the Caribbean as a whole.

The case of Cuba

Cuba's inefficiency in electricity generation does not only affect the renewable energy sector, which is especially in need of foreign investment and technology that the regime's lack of economic openness, maintained for ideological reasons, cannot attract. The prolonged blackouts that the island especially suffered last summer, between 12 and 18 hours a day, speak of a collapse of the general electric system derived from the aging of the installations, some of them more than 40 years old, and their deficient maintenance, as well as of a mistaken energy policy, very dependent on liquid hydrocarbons in the production of electricity (85% of the generation); the hurricanes that form in the Caribbean do not help either. In August 2022, system failures left a dozen thermoelectric power plants out of service, generating a deficit of some 1,000 MW and plunging the country into its worst electricity crisis in thirty years.

The recent poor sugar cane harvests have contributed to this crisis, which have reduced the production of ethanol, a product on which Havana had bet when the receipt of Venezuela's generous oil was reduced due to the difficulties that country is going through. The 2021-2022 harvest was one of the worst in history, reaching only 53% of the expected sugar production (the previous harvest already fell short of 66% of the forecast).

From agreement with the government entity Cuba Energía, the island had in 2019, the last year with official data offered, an installed capacity of 6,507 MW, but the national company Unión Eléctric reducedthe real capacity to half, about 3,200 MW. Electricity generation in 2019 was 20,703 GWh, with the following origin: power plants, 61.1%; generator sets, 21.1%; gas combined cycle, 11.8%; biomass, 4%; solar, 1.2%; hydro, 0.6%; and wind, 0.1%. According to this breakdown, renewable sources accounted for 5.8% of generation, one third of the official installed capacity of renewables, which computes as 19.7% of the total.

Lesser Antilles

The Lesser Antilles have an electricity generation from renewables that in 2020 was below 400 GWh. This is a figure leave due to the small geography and population of these islands (we consider here both sovereign states and dependencies), but in relative terms it reaches remarkable levels in some cases, such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, which in addition to being the largest generators, with 394 GWh and 353 GWh, respectively, have a renewable sector that accounts for 23.3% and 22.6% of the respective total electricity generation. In percentage terms, Curaçao also stands out, with 25.3% and a production of 213 GWh, predominantly wind power. Other islands such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Barbados are well below these levels.

The reduced oil supply from Petrocaribe -the initiative promoted by the Venezuelan state-owned PDVSA at framework of the 'petrodiplomacy' launched by Hugo Chávez and later reduced by Nicolás Maduro due to the collapse of his country-, has pushed the small islands to try to expand their renewable capacities. In any case, there has also been an interest in developing LNG (liquefied natural gas) gasification facilities as a way to guarantee their energy security. Precisely the United States launched in 2015 an aid plan to facilitate that development and reduce the political influence that Venezuela had in the Caribbean. Since then, some countries have begun to receive LNG, such as Jamaica (two terminals) and, in containers, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba expects to inaugurate a terminal in 2024.