Cuba’s Energy and Infrastructure Revolution

September 21, 2016  • Greg Gershuny & Energy and Environment Program

On September 1-2, the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program took part in the Cuba Energy & Infrastructure Summit in Havana, Cuba, by organizing a panel about the policy, finance, and market opportunities and challenges developing a cleaner energy economy in Cuba. The Aspen Institute arranged for David Sandalow, the Inaugural Fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, and Roger Ballentine, Founder and President of Green Strategies in Washington, D.C., to travel to Havana and participate as speakers during the Summit.

Cuba is looking to make great strides in the clean energy space. Currently, Cuba generates more than 80% of its electricity from burning oil, one of the most carbon intensive fuels (other than coal). The majority of the rest of its electricity is from natural gas or biofuels (mostly sugar cane and Marabu, an invasive species of hardwood tree). However, in the last few years Cuba has installed 11mw of wind power and 24mw of solar power. This has led to an increased desire for additional renewable generation sources. Therefore, in their intended nationally determined contribution to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Cuba agreed to install more than 2,000mw of renewable generation sources, with 24% of their electricity sector being renewable by 2030.

While this is great progress, much work is needed to achieve these goals. One issue that Cuba will grapple with is that all of the new renewable power they plan to bring online in the coming decade is in addition to the existing fleet of oil burning, carbon emitting power plants that keep the lights on in Cuba today. Therefore, while the rate of carbon emissions will decrease, the total amount may not. Much of Cuba’s oil is imported from Venezuela. This poses geopolitical risks to Cuba’s energy security as Venezuela’s government and economy teeter on the edge of crisis, largely due to prolonged low oil prices, it “becomes a supply risk for oil markets”, according to Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy’s new report on Venezuela. Cuba will have to continue to examine possibilities to reduce its oil consumption or source from other nations.

As Cuba looks to modernize its power sector and reach its Paris Climate goals, the Aspen Institute is interested in continuing discussions with the Cuban government and industry leaders about clean energy policy, markets, and infrastructure in Cuba. The Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program has worked with several other countries, including India and China, to engage on bilateral and multilateral agendas on energy, environment and climate.

Greg Gershuny is the Acting Deputy Director and James E. Rogers Energy Policy Fellow for the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program.

David Sandalow directs the US-China Energy & Climate program and works on a wide range of issues including the future of the electric grid, renewables finance and CO2 utilization and, prior to joining Columbia, served in senior positions at the U.S. Department of Energy, including Under Secretary of Energy (Acting) and Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs.

Roger Ballentine advises and represents businesses, associations, government agencies and non-profit entities on domestic and international public policy issues and business strategies, focusing on energy, environmental and conservation matters. Previously, he was a senior member of the White House staff, serving President Bill Clinton as Chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Environmental Initiatives.