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An LNG-burning Karpowership vessel. Picture: KARPOWERSHIP
An LNG-burning Karpowership vessel. Picture: KARPOWERSHIP

Havana — Cuba, mired in an energy crisis that has brought frequent blackouts, is negotiating with Turkish company Karpowership to have it double the megawatts it now produces for the country from shipboard generators just offshore, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Cuban officials are in talks with Karpowership, one of the world’s largest operators of floating power plants and part of the Turkey-based Karadeniz Holding, the sources said. The company already has five ships operating off Cuba with a capacity of about 250MW.

The communist-run country needs to generate more than 3,000MW to meet minimum demand and now is producing between 2,000MW and 2,500MW.

The Cuban National Electric Union did not respond to a request for comment. Karadeniz declined to comment. The sources, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the negotiations, said the talks centred on how to ensure lease payments from Cuba.

“The US trade embargo makes Western financial transactions very difficult and Cuba is cash short and behind on payments with many suppliers and joint venture partners,” one source said.

Experts say the Turkish company would need to add to its fleet off Cuba to produce the required amount of energy. Powerships carry their own generator fuelled by oil or gas, anchor close to land and connect to the local electricity grid. They are leased by the host country.

The deal, if it moves forward, would provide quick and much-needed relief for the embattled Cuban government as power outages have spread across the island and increased in length.

Cuba is desperate for more electricity. The energy crisis, with blackouts in four- to six-hour blocks twice daily or more in most of the country, is perhaps the most painful symptom of a deeper financial crisis caused by external factors such as US sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic and poor economic management.

Cubans are also living through food, medicine and fuel shortages, forcing them to wait in long lines for the basics.

There have been scattered, small protests this summer and US authorities registered a record of more than 175,000 Cubans at the US-Mexican border since October, according to US customs and border agency statistics.

Cuban power plants are obsolete, averaging 35 years of age, with a backup system of hundreds of smaller generators at least 15 years old. Just 5% of power comes from alternative energy sources.

The government blames lack of funds for its inability to update its decrepit grid, and says breakdowns, not fuel shortages, are the main cause of blackouts.

Energy & mining minister Livan Arronte Cruz said last week that the country hoped to all but eliminate blackouts by the end of the year, in part by adding “531MW to generating capacity through new investments”, a figure reduced to 450MW by President Miguel Diaz-Canel at the weekend.

Omar Ramirez Mendoza, deputy director of the state electricity monopoly, said on state-run TV that “240MW [of the 450MW] will come from mobile generation”, a euphemism used by officials to refer to the powerships and coinciding with the source accounts.

The remainder of the new capacity would come from upgrading existing facilities with the help of foreign partners in the Moa nickel region in eastern Cuba and at the Mariel special development zone just west of Havana, Ramirez said.

Jorge Pinon, senior research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute specialising in the Latin American region, said he believed the powerships would provide the “mobile generation” referred to by Ramirez, but wondered how the extra capacity would be financed “as the Cubans do not have any money”.


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