Cuba seeks to boost solar panel output with China’s help

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba — With China’s help, Cuba hopes to produce more solar panels, as part of a larger government effort to promote renewable energy sources and bring electricity to remote areas.

Chinese raw materials are guaranteeing production at Cuba’s only photovoltaic panel manufacturing plant, the Ernesto Che Guevara Electronic Components, in the western province of Pinar del Rio, 160 kilometers west of Havana.

“We buy raw materials from China that are the same quality as those from the United States or Europe,” the plant’s director, Ivan Gonzalez, told Xinhua.

Gonzalez, 50, studied electrical engineering in the town of Lvov, in what was then the Soviet Union. Since graduating in 1990, he has worked at the plant.

After 27 years in the field, few people know the plant’s ins and outs quite like Gonzalez, who jokes that he began at an entry level job “tightening screws” and gradually worked his way up the ladder to where he is today, supervising some 500 employees.

The plant was inaugurated in September 1987 to develop the island’s microelectronics, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union soon after practically brought operations to a standstill.

In 2001, the facility was readapted to make five-watt solar panels instead of semiconductors, and now makes some 60,000 solar panels a year with a 15-megawatt capacity.

Cuba aims to generate 24 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030, but the plant’s annual output is currently too limited to help meet that goal.

“We are looking for technological variants to increase capacity,” said Gonzalez, adding that Cuba plans to invest $10 million over the next three years to boost production.

According to a 2012 census, some 20,000 homes in Cuba have no access to electricity. The results of the survey led officials to devise a program to outfit those homes with solar panels.

The plant in Pinar del Rio is in charge of making the roof-mounted panels, and with production at 75 percent, they are expected to be ready by the first quarter of 2018.

The plant, which can currently make about 200 panels a day, is also set to begin making one-kilowatt panels for the domestic market, and has diversified production to include induction ovens, electronic automotive parts, LED lights, and water treatment and desalination plants.

Cuba’s trade ties with China have been instrumental in helping the Caribbean country work towards its renewable energy targets and development goals.

Xinhua, China Daily

July 24, 2017

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