by Tracy Bindel
On a cold and wet January night, over 100 people packed into the First Baptist Church in JP to hear Mario Alberto Arrastía Ávila finally speak. It had been months since we began waiting for him to receive his visa to the US. Activists and neighbors working on issues ranging from freeing the Cuban 5 to climate change and energy gathered together to welcome Mario in celebration of the recent historical thawing between the United States and Cuba.
Mario, Cuba’s leading Energy Efficiency and Renewables Educator, emphasized the scientific nature of his US speaking tour before alluding to the immense potential for growth in both the US and Cuba as a result of new diplomatic openings. Candidly, he questioned why everyone is so curious about what is going to happen to Cuba and less so about how these changes are going to affect the United States. “Both countries have a lot to learn from each other,” he reassured the audience.
Cuba’s Energy Revolution is one of the most ambitious energy renovation programs to date. “The Special Period in Time of Peace” aka the economic crisis in Cuban history starting in 1989, necessitated country-wide reforms in health care, agriculture, transportation, and energy.
Here are some of the Revolution’s accomplishments to date:
Public Education: The Ministry of Energy rolled out an education campaign on how to save energy using all kinds of media, from national television to advertisements on billboards and messaging on pre-paid cell phone cards.
CFLs: At the same time social workers and student volunteers went from house to house replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs). Within six months, Cuba managed to phase out over 9 million incandescent bulbs nationwide which represents a 4% savings of the total Cuban electricity consumption. Today, Mario boasted, it is impossible to find an incandescent light bulb on any store shelf.
Appliances: The Cuban Energy Revolution also replaced 2.55 million refrigerators with more efficient appliances, recycling 100% of the old ones. Other household appliances were also replaced on a smaller scale—from air conditioners to televisions.
Oil: Additionally, prior to 2006, the majority of Cuban households were using kerosene for cooking which is both an energy and public health problem. Three million households were converted to electric cooking within months which saves 250,000 tons of oil annually.
The largest factor inhibiting the continued shift to cleaner energy for Cuba, Mario emphasized, is primarily a financial one. The Cuban economy continues to struggle despite successfully reinventing itself after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The Cuban Energy Revolution thus far has been about energy efficiency. With more funding, Cuba hopes to move toward sustainability via renewables.
When questioned about “outside the box” solutions such as solar cookers and bicycle powered machines, Mario responded that such solutions may not feasible saying, “You can’t propose a first world solution to a third world problem.” His perspective was insightful, realistic, and very telling.
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