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Renewables & efficiency - June 21

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La Revolucion Energetica: Cuba's Energy Revolution

Laurie Guevara-Stone, Renewable Energy World Magazine
In this small island of 11 million people, that many other countries could learn from its efforts to be energy independent and curb climate change. Laurie Guevara-Stone reports.

Just a few years ago Cuba’s energy situation was bleak. The country had 11 large, and quite inefficient, thermoelectric plants generating electricity for the entire island. Most of the plants were 25 years old and only functioning 60% of the time. There were frequent blackouts, especially during peak demand periods. There was also a high percentage of transmission losses along the electrical distribution grid. To add to the energy crisis, most Cuban households had inefficient appliances, 75% of the population was cooking with kerosene, and the residential electrical rates did not encourage conservation. In 2004 the eastern side of Cuba was hit by two hurricanes in a short period of time, affecting transmission lines and leaving one million people without electricity for ten days. All of this in the face of the overarching drivers of peak oil and climate change, made Cubans realise they had to make energy more of a priority. Thus, in 2006, began what Cubans call La Revolución Energética – the Energy Revolution.

Cuba’s recent Energy Revolution has helped it become a true model of sustainable development. The 2006 Living Planet report assesses sustainable development by using the United Nation’s Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) and the ecological footprint. The HDI is calculated from life expectancy, literacy and education, and per capita GDP. The UNDP considers an HDI value of more than 0.8 to be high human development. An ecological footprint, which is a measure of demand on the biosphere, lower than 1.8 global hectares per head denotes sustainability. The only country in the world that meets both of the above criteria is Cuba. ‘Cuba has reached a good level of development according to United Nations’ criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and very high life expectancy,’ explains Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the report, adding: ‘While the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption.’

The statistics are impressive, the country is currently consuming 34% of the kerosene, 40% of the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and 80% of the gasoline it used to consume before the implementation of the Energy Revolution a mere two years earlier. Cuba’s per capita energy consumption is now at a level one-eighth of that in the US, while access to health services, education levels, and life expectancy are still some of the top ranking in the world, as Table 1, below shows.

... Cuba’s social workers help the energy revolution

To carry out their ambitious energy conservation plan, Cuba relied on their small army of ‘trabajadores sociales’ or social workers. Formed in 2000, Cuba’s social workers are made up of youths who have the task of bringing social justice to the island in many different spheres, including labour, education, culture, sports, and the environment. Along with working with people with disabilities, the elderly, and people convicted of crimes, the latest job of the social workers is to help carry out the Energy Revolution. Since 2006, 13,000 social workers have visited homes, businesses, and factories around the island replacing light bulbs, teaching people how to use their new electric cooking appliances and spreading information on saving energy. The social workers also worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to help save energy in the sugarcane harvest, and work in the transportation sector to achieve more efficiency in the national bus system.

Laurie Guevara-Stone is the International Program manager at Solar Energy International, based in Colorado.
(9 April 2009)
Suggested by EB contributor thorn.



Global warming: send in the tanks

David Strahan, Guardian
Forget expensive high tech silver bullets like nuclear fusion and carbon capture and storage, the solution to climate change lies in the humble electric immersion heater that sits in your hot water tank under the stairs. That’s the view of Dr Mark Barrett, senior researcher at the UCL Energy Institute, who will present his analysis at a meeting in the House of Commons today.

A tank with an immersion heater may be just an oversized kettle, but there are thought to be around 19 million in Britain’s homes, which collectively have the capacity to store huge amounts energy as hot water, and this could be key to achieving an almost wholly renewable electricity supply.

Dr Barrett says the heaters could be switched on and off rapidly to compensate for the erratic output of wind turbines and solar panels, each heater controlled by a simple gadget that responds to signals sent through the electricity grid – a system that has been used since WWII.“Everybody is always looking for a shiny new silver bullet solution” says Dr Barrett, “but this idea is cheap, safe, and based on technology that’s been around for decades”.

Renewables are a problem for the grid as currently configured because supply has to match unfettered demand minute by minute.
(18 June 2009)
Also at David's blog.



ICLEI's Emani Kumar explains Urban Energy Innovation in the Global South

Alex Aylett, WorldChanging
It's been a while since most cities took an active role in managing their own energy supply. Centralized national or regional generation and supply grids effectively displaced the days when cities ran their own independent systems. But with the interest in local renewables a shift is in the works. Cities are becoming increasingly comfortable integrating energy policies into their mandates and encouraging local level generation. The many facets of this shift have been a key theme at the ICLEI World Congress, running in Edmonton (Alberta) until the end of the week.

Through programs like the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP), and the Local Renewables Network, ICLEI has helped foster renewable power projects in many cities that have already been celebrated for their energy accomplishments. German solar cities like Freiburg, or Vaxjo Sweden (acclaimed the greenest city in Europe) are all attending the Congress here in Edmonton. But a draft report released at the conference by REN21, the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies and ICLEI makes it clear that those cities are not alone. The “Global Status Report on Local Renewable Energy Policies” points to 160 other cities who have put in place local renewable energy policies and programs.

Solar steam system, Ahamad Nagar, Maharastra, India iclei_solar%20steam%20system.jpg
Among the most interesting are cities outside of the areas normally celebrated in the media for leadership on these issue. In India, for example, a small group of cities have been pushing for the adoption of local renewables, and their work has paved the way for a national Solar Cities Project announced earlier this year.

One of those leaders is Nagpur, India. A city of 2.4 million, Nagpur has put in place a municipal ordinance requiring solar hot water heaters on all large new residential buildings.
(17 June 2009)

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