Hydro-Energy Boosts Costa Rica’s Renewable Status

July 10, 2015

On the southern-most tip of North America, in the tropics of Costa Rica, a quiet revolution is taking place. This plucky little country is doing something the rest of the world is only dreaming of; it’s weaning itself off fossil fuels. Costa Rica has aspirations to be carbon neutral in just six years and their ambitious goal is looking surprisingly achievable.

Geothermal and Hydro-Electric Energy Lead the Way

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If you’re thinking that a carbon neutral country in just six years sounds like it’s too good to be true, it might behoove you to know that Costa Rica has been running on renewable energy since the beginning of the year, joining Iceland, Albania and Paraguay as the only nations to do so.

It has some advantages over its larger North American neighbors in that it’s a small country with a population of only 4.8 million; about the size of Alabama’s.

With a tourist-based economy, there are few manufacturers which keep Costa Rica’s energy needs to a minimum. Costa Rica gets its energy from geothermal sources (volcanoes) and from its many rivers which provide hydro power. Thanks to the generous rains this year, Costs Rica’s hydro-electric plants have been able to supply more energy than usual. Teamed with biomass, wind and solar, Costa Rica’s renewable energy sources have been working together to ensure a completely green grid.

Diversifying the Grid

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Reliance on hydro energy could prove a vulnerability in the event of a drought and Cost Rica is working to mitigate this by investing in more geothermal energy sources. In 2014, the Costa Rican government, with support from Japan and the European Investment Bank, approved a $958 million investment in geothermal energy. Two initial plants will generate about 55 MW and cost approximately $333 million to build and two subsequent 50 MW plants will also be built to help diversify the grid.

“It’s good news that more geothermal will be coming on board, as there are obvious downsides of being too reliant on hydropower, especially run-of-the-river systems, which can be hindered by seasonal changes in water flow,” according to Jake Richardson of Clean Technica.

Solar and Wind

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Solar energy is also an option and the country managed to get 50% of its energy from solar on a very sunny day last year. With twice the amount of sunshine that Germany gets, solar promises to be a welcome addition to the diverse energy portfolio. Wind energy currently accounts for 33.8% of energy production with 198MW in 2014.

Costa Rica currently produces 94% of its energy from renewable sources when hydro-electric plants are operating normally, with fossil fuels picking up the last 6% when hydro-electric sources run low. With the investment in the new geothermal plants expected to come to fruition in about six years, Costa Ricans will be able to boast a completely carbon-neutral energy grid.