Bursting Cuba’s Sugar Cane Biomass Bubble

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Educator Erasmo Calzadilla critiques Cuba’s optimistic claims that sugar cane is an ideal renewable source of energy, because of the high caloric content of bagasse,and that it is already meeting about 30 percent of the country’s energy demand. Personally (and as a non-expert) I am just thrilled that Cuba, and a few more of our Caribbean and Latin American countries are at least trying to decrease the dependence on fossil fuels.

What’s really going on with renewable sources of energy in Cuba?  The island’s official press is brimming with optimism in this connection, but, do we actually have reason to be so positive?

I will start this post with one of the most widely divulged “half-truths”. According to Conrado Moreno, a high-level Cuban government expert and official, “during 2011, 78.4 percent of the total primary energy output came from fossil fuels and 21.6 percent was produced using renewable sources of energy.”

During a presentation on the subject, Projects Vice-President for CUBASOLAR Julio Torres Martinez said: “In Cuba, sugar cane is an ideal means of intensively exploiting renewable sources of energy. This is owed to the high caloric content of bagasse, which has met as much as 30 percent of the country’s energy demand.”

After reading these two comments, one walks away with the reassuring sense that we’re on the right track, as deriving 30 percent of the country’s primary energy from renewable sources is a magnificent ranking. It is so magnificent, in fact, that it is a little hard to believe. How did humble Cuba achieve this, when countries with the highest indices of development in this area barely make it to 10 percent? I smell a rat here, and we’re going to find it.

To discover where the trick is, we’ll have to wade through some data published by Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) and crunch some numbers. The first step is breaking down the percentage of energy produced in Cuba using renewable energy sources (RES), on the basis of a report for 2010 (1).

RES Contribution (thousands of tons of oil) %
Biomass 938.5 97.7
Others 20.9 2,3
Total 959.8 100

The percentages column (courtesy of yours truly) immediately raises suspicions. The amount of energy derived from biomass is so huge compared to all other sources that it could only be the result of fraudulent information.

We know that Cuban biomass is primarily made up of sugar industry (SI) sub-products. Let’s follow that trail. [See link below for his explanation]

To arrive at the highly inflated figure of 21 to 30 percent of primary energy produced using renewable sources, experts have lied in different ways. They are deceiving us, conceptually, by including industrial biomass as a primary source of energy, when, in truth, it depends in great measure on oil (making it more of a secondary source of energy). They are lying in the same way when they include it among renewable sources of energy – the clean, environmentally friendly kind that do not emit greenhouse gases, I mean. They are deceiving us at the quantitative level when they claim that all of the sub-products of the harvest are optimally exploited as a source of energy – when we know this is not the case. [. . .]

For the data and complete article, see http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=102637

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