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Has Cuba Exposed the Myth of 'Free' Solar Power? Energy, Space, and Justice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Alf Hornborg, Gustav Cederlof, Andreas Roos

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-1008
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Issue number4
Early online date2 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

King's Authors


Given the many problems with fossil energy, the fact that solar energy still only constitutes an insignificant fraction of global energy use requires explanation. The most common explanation is that multinational corporations with vested interests in fossil fuels have been actively preventing the development of solar energy technologies. But this explanation is difficult to apply to the case of Cuba. This article takes Cuban energy policy since the 1990s as a starting point to understand the sociometabolic prerequisites of a renewable energy transition. In 2014, Cuba embarked on a new renewable energy strategy while 95% of the island’s electricity was still generated from petroleum products. To explain Cuba’s halting renewable energy transition, we demonstrate that modern energy technologies are always embedded in global flows of resources and processes of capital accumulation. The requisite investments of capital and labor in energy technology represent substantial, indirect land requirements beyond the space occupied by the technological infrastructure itself. The theoretical argument is that energy technologies should be perceived not simply as local, politically-neutral accomplishments of engineering but as sociometabolic displacement strategies, appropriating space from elsewhere. From an interdisciplinary perspective, this means that assessments of a technology’s “power density” also need to consider the spatial demands of the global economic context that makes the technology feasible. The Cuban case illustrates how visions of a renewable energy transition in both mainstream and Marxist thought will need to be based on a radically transformed ontology of technology attentive to global political economy and energy justice. Ultimately, the global anticipation of a transition to renewable energy implicates illusory assumptions about “technology” that have been taken for granted since the Industrial Revolution.

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