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Power Outages in Cuba and Cooperation with Turkey - Yaren Öztürk


Power outages caused social unrest in Cuba last year and were targeted in various protests. Although a slight reduction in power cuts ended the protests for a while, the situation has worsened since May. As of May, power outages in the country have not decreased, and the duration of outages has been getting longer. It is reported that the blackouts affect the entire island and that most of the country experiences blackouts twice a day for between 4 and 6 hours. According to data from the Union Electrica de Cuba (UNE), there were power cuts on 29 out of 31 days in July, which continued similarly in August. The situation is no different in Havana, the capital of Cuba, a Caribbean country with a population of 11 million. Last month, a power outage at a local substation left most Havana's 15 municipalities in the dark for two hours. Locals complain that their lives are becoming increasingly complex, with power outages lasting more than 8 hours in some areas and up to 20 hours in others. The daily power outages are causing businesses to suffer economic losses and people to have difficulty in many basic things, from cooking and washing clothes to watching television and accessing the internet. The energy crisis, which has become one of the country's biggest problems, stands on a thin line in threat of becoming chronic. Livan Arronte Cruz, former Minister of Energy and Mining, stated that solving the crisis is a complex issue and may take time. The minister said that malfunctions in Cuba's 20 ageing power plants, whose maintenance has been delayed due to lack of funds, combined with a fire in two generators this year worsened the situation. Those power outages could continue into next year. Cuba's existing power plants are, on average, 35 years old and have a backup system of hundreds of small generators at least 15 years old. Cuba imports more than 50% of its fuel from Venezuela. Power plants mostly burn heavy and corrosive local crude oil. Only 5% of electricity comes from renewable sources. This shows that investments in renewable energy in the country have not yielded any tangible results. Cuban officials say increased sanctions imposed by the United States during the Trump administration and Biden's broken promise to roll back the sanctions, which are still primarily in place, have made it challenging to buy spare parts and fuel for power plants. The government, for its part, blames a lack of funds for its inability to replace the ageing grid and says breakdowns, not fuel shortages, are the leading cause of power outages. Analyst Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said the Cuban government is unable to produce enough crude oil to run the island's power plants, and the country faces a growing energy deficit. The Cuban government wants to find a solution to the ongoing energy crisis in the country before it becomes chronic. In the search for an answer, talks are said to have resumed with Karpowership, part of the Turkish energy company Karadeniz Holding, which designed and built the first fleet of floating power plants "Powership". The Cuban government has reportedly approached the Turkish company about doubling the megawatts it currently generates for the island from offshore ship generators. Cuba needs to generate more than 3,000 MW of electricity to meet its minimum electricity demand but currently can only generate between 2,000 MW and 2,500 MW. On the other hand, Karadeniz Holding presently has five vessels with a capacity of around 250 MW offshore Cuba. Negotiations between the Cuban government and the conglomerate date back to 2018. In October 2018, the holding signed an agreement with Cuba's state-affiliated electricity company Union Electrica de Cuba (UNE), to generate 110 MW of electricity with its three ships for 51 months. Two of these ships, Barış Bey and Esra Sultan, were commissioned in Port de Mariel in July 2019, while the vessel named Ela Sultan was commissioned in November 2019. In November 2019, the contract capacity was increased from 110 MW to 184 MW. It was stated that the Turkish company met 10 percent of the country's total electricity needs with three ships. Last April, negotiations were held to increase the contracts' capacity and power, and former Cuban Energy and Mining Minister Livan Arronte Cruz announced that the number of ships would be increased. He said the new vessels would have a power of 15 MW. Officials believe that the Turkish company needs to add more to the fleet off Cuba to meet the island's energy needs and reduce power outages. In this context, if the deal becomes clearer, it could relieve Cuba, which the energy crisis has bogged down. For over two years, Cubans have been coping with the severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, US sanctions, and a worsening economic situation. The economy of the communist-ruled country declined by 10.9% in 2020 due to the pandemic and recovered only 2% last year. In addition to power outages, people are struggling with access to medicine and food, fuel shortages and the gradual decline of public transportation. They are left with long queues and high prices to meet their basic needs. Also, following Hurricane Ian at the end of September, Cuba's power grid collapsed, sparking massive protests across Havana. Since then, there have been numerous protests in towns and cities where blackouts have persisted and even worsened. Last month, the government decided to replace Arronte with Vicente de la O Levy as minister of energy and mining. While the country is dealing with many problems, it is not possible to say when the power cuts will end. At this point, the negotiations with Karadeniz Holding and the agreement's details may be instructive.

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