Renewable energy project launched in Cuba

By Havana Energy Ltd. | January 18, 2011

Havana Energy Ltd.—part of the Esencia Group of companies—has teamed up with Zerus SA, a company linked to the Ministry of Sugar, to develop a 30-megawatt pilot power plant at Ciro Redondo Sugar Mill, about 400 kilometers (248 miles) from Havana, and use it as a model to develop more power plants. The business will be developed in a joint venture company.

Seven percent of Cuba's energy needs are currently supplied by renewable energy sources. The Cuban government is eager to increase this percentage via its natural resources and reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels. “Having tried for more than a decade to promote closer economic links between the U.K. and Cuba, I am delighted to be involved in a project that demonstrates the benefits of such co-operation,” said Havana Energy Chairman Brian Wilson, a former U.K. Energy Minister. “Cuba has an excellent record both in providing electricity for its people and promoting environmental sustainability. This project will support both objectives. I have the highest regard for the abilities and objectives of our Cuban colleagues.”

The Ministry of Sugar and the National Electricity Board have a strategy to increase power generation in all its operating sugar mills to decentralize the grid and provide power generation in areas which have weaker supply today. Nelson Labrada, vice-minister of sugar, said: “This strategy of using sugarcane bagasse for power generation avoids one of the primary problems with other biomass sources, which is supply. Bagasse is the fibrous residual left after cane crushing. In Cuba it is possible via the sugar mills and bagasse-based power plants to generate up to 40 percent of the energy needs of the country today.”

The capital investment for the pilot plant is expected to provide a return of investment within five years.

Early in November, a mission with leading academics from Scotland visited Cuba supported by the SDTI and Havana Energy. The scope of the visit was to investigate renewable energy crops, primarily a shrub called Marabu that has invaded more than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres), and secondly to have an overview of the sugarcane industry and the new “energy cane” varieties, which have been genetically developed in Cuba and have a high fiber content.

“The intended model of bagasse to produce electricity in Ciro Redondo makes total sense and even better if the brushy wood Marabu can be utilized, and therefore also converting more land to agricultural use,” said Julian Bell from the Scottish Agricultural College. It was noted by the experts that there is a good possibility of utilizing this shrub as a secondary biomass for the local power plants and that it has an interesting export potential. Marabu is currently being tested in laboratories in the U.K. to investigate its properties.

“It’s an ideal process and one of the most efficient sources of renewable energy in the world, the next stage should be incorporating biofuels from the other waste products from the sugarcane,” said Martin Tangley, director of Biofuel Centre.

Peter Hall, professor of energy storage from Strathclyde University with Havana Energy will launch a study in the spring of 2011 looking into the design process within the sugar industry. There is also an ongoing investigation reviewing the possibilities of producing activated carbon from Cuban biomass products.