The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) launched a pilot program Monday for clients who wish to generate their own renewable energy, decreas their dependence on power from the energy monopoly’s grid and lower their electricity bill.
Under the program, residential, commercial and industrial energy consumers will be allowed to install renewable energy generators – hydro and micro-hydro, wind, sun, and biomass – in order to produce energy.
Participants will remain connected to ICE’s electricity grid, but when their production of electricity is greater than their consumption, the electricity produced will flow into the national grid, and a two-way electric meter, called a net meter, will credit this contribution. At the end of the month, the value of this contribution will be deducted from the client’s energy bill.
If overall production is greater than consumption, the client will receive a credit, which can be used during months in which the client produces less energy than they consume and have to draw from ICE’s grid.
Clients will have until November of each year to use their energy credits. At that point, the ICE will clear all accounts and begin a new year.
Consumers who have renewable generators installed must contact ICE, which will send a crew to inspect and approve the system and install the new two-way meters.
To remain in accordance with existing legislation – that says that no more than 15 percent of the country’s electricity can stem from private generators – ICE will allot a total of five megawatts of installed capacity in the national grid for the pilot program.
Individual residential self-generator projects are limited to 10 kilowatts under the program, but the ICE said it will allow for larger applications in commercial and industrial installations. Projects will be approved on a first-come, first-served basis.
The pilot program will last two years, and at the end of this period, participants will have the option to extend their involvement.
Last week, as part of an initiative to promote environmentally sustainable housing, the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica announced financial incentives for homes in Costa Rica that incorporate “eco-technologies” that save energy, including personal energy generators.
Under their Vivienda Verde (Green home) program, Banco Nacional will reduce the interest rate by 1 percent for a home loan in colones, and 0.25 percent for a loan in dollars, for homes that have the technology installed. The discount will be in effect for the entire period of the credit.
To qualify for the reduced-rate mortgages, applicants must choose a supplier from a list of approved eco-technology providers available from the Banco Nacional.
The bank’s announcement coincides with the launching of ICE’s new program.
“The principal objective of this program is to allow citizens to apply their environmental and social conscience to their homes,” said Fernando Naranjo, general manager of Banco Nacional.
Private renewable energy is growing in Costa Rica as the state launches initiatives and fashions incentives to foster their arrival. In the past year, the central government has removed both import taxes and the 13 percent sales tax on renewable energy products.
The mainstreaming and falling price of the equipment has made renewable energy systems more affordable.
Most popular among self-generators of electricity in Costa Rica are solar panels. According to the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, the average cost of a solar panel in 2007 was $3.66 per watt.
Due in part to a global drop in silicon prices, solar panels can now be found for around one dollar per watt.
Poderco, a renewable energy company in Costa Rica, has pushed for the installation of two-way net-metering in Costa Rica for over a decade. The company has long history of installing solar energy technologies on homes and businesses around the country and is now working with biochar systems, a form of creating organic oil for energy production by burning biomass in a low-oxygen environment. Biochar systems are considered biomass generators under ICE’s pilot program.
Poderco (www.poderco.com) – provides quotes and system recommendations for renewable energy self-generators. The company offers a 6.5 to 10 percent return on investment, or a payback period of nine to 11 years.
So Far, Only ICE
The new pilot program is open to all ICE clients. Other electricity providers, such as the National Power and Light Company (CNFL), which provides electricity in the San José area, have yet to begin planning similar initiatives.
Melanie Salguero, a press woman from CNFL, said the group “has no plans for the moment” to launch a net metering system. But, she conceded, “depending on the response to the ICE program, it could be something we think about in the future.”
Jim Ryan, president of ASI power, a renewable energy firm in Liberia, Guanacaste, northwest of San José, said he has had talks with The Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) about mandating all of Costa Rica’s electricity companies to offer the net metering system.
In recent meetings, Ryan said, ARESEP has determined that the body has the legal authority to issue such an order, but, for now, non-ICE customers can only urge their energy providers to offer self-generation programs.
ASI specializes in wind turbines and solar panels and has also worked closely with the new two-way meter program. The company provides details about the program and answers to frequently asked questions on their website: www.asipower.com.
The five megawatts slated for the pilot program in the national grid is small compared to the more than 2,400 megawatts of installed capacity that Costa Rica maintains. But in a country where the government estimates that the 1,500 megawatt demand for electricity will grow 5.4% annually for the next 10 years, ICE’s new self-generation initiative is a sign that the country’s energy gurus are searching for new ideas and solutions.
Those who wish to participate in the ICE net metering program are encouraged to visit their local ICE agency. ICE will also answer questions via e-mail at
[email protected] or by phone at 2220-6954, 2220-6315 or 2220-7835.