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Renewable Energy: Costa Rica’s Energy Independence

You may recognize Costa Rica for its lush tropical rainforests and breathtaking beaches.

However, Costa Rica has been making headlines in recent years for a much different reason. Costa Rica has been a world leader in the realm of carbon neutrality for the last 7 years and running. Since 2014, it has been reported that Costa Rica has been running on over 98% renewable electricity sources, making it one of the “greenest” countries on the entire planet.

“Pura Vida”, meaning “pure life”, seems to be much more than just a national slogan to the people and institutions of Costa Rica.

4 Types of Renewable Energy in Costa Rica

Costa Rica uses 4 main types of renewable energy:

1. Hydroelectricity. Taking up the bulk of Costa Rica’s renewable energy efforts, hydropower makes up a whopping 67.5% of Costa Rica’s total renewable energy output. This can be attributed to the abundance of sprawling local water sources such as rivers and lakes that cover a large portion of Costa Rica’s landscape.

2. Wind Turbines. Comprising a total of 17% of renewable energy production, wind power has become another reliable source of energy in Costa Rica.

3. Geothermal Energy. Costa Rica has the added benefit of being able to produce a fair amount of geothermal energy due to dozens of active and inactive volcanoes that can be found throughout the region. Geothermal energy is now responsible for an estimated 14% of Costa Rica’s total renewable energy production. The North Volcanic Mountain Range in Guanacaste seems to be the region with the most potential for production as Costa Rica expands its efforts.

4. Biomass & Solar Panels. Biomass (natural plant/animal based material) and solar panels make up about 1% of Costa Rica’s renewable energy production. Based off of their location and sunlight, Costa Rica is an excellent candidate for expansion in the field of solar energy.

Costa Rica and Policy Regarding Renewable Energy

If you need any indication about how serious Costa Rica is with their transition to “going green”, please refer to some of their recent policy changes within the past decade.

Costa Rica is one of the most policy-friendly countries in the world regarding policy in relation to carbon neutrality.

Just recently approved to be built in 2019, Costa Rica has also approved three 50 MW geothermal power plants to begin production, ultimately costing $954 million to the republic. This is no small venture for a country consisting of just around 5 million individuals.

This shows the dedication and confidence that Costa Rica has in these (relatively) new power producing technologies. They aim to be completely carbon neutral by 2050. This is a feasible considering the 98% renewable energy electricity output, although rising infrastructure concerns (large cities being over-run with gas guzzling vehicles) may prove to hamper these efforts.

In November 2016, Costa Rica allied with a numerous amount of other developing countries most susceptible to changes in climate in signing on to the Marrakesh Communique. This pact, along with various other ramifications, requires signatories to aid in “greening our economies as our contribution towards achieving net carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy.”

In just the recent past, Costa Rica beat its own previous record of 299 days, reporting an incredible 300 days straight of providing power using renewable resources and renewable energy production.

According to a 2015 report, Costa Rica expects to maintain similar production (percentage-wise), but makes no clear claims as to further diversification of natural energy production.

Why does Costa Rica Use Renewable Energy?

As was already stated, Costa Rica has the advantage of being poised in a geographic location that has an abundance of renewable energy producing sources such as rivers, lakes, dams, and volcanoes. Costa Rica also receives a tremendous amount of rainfall per year, which serves to aid in the overall production of hydroelectricity.

In addition to its inherent geographic advantages, Costa Rican leaders have also figured out that it is much cheaper to produce energy using renewable sources than it is to continue relying on fossil fuels from other countries. A 2019 study conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) found that Electricity costs could be reduced by 1 US cent per every kWh of power generation, thus cutting costs for the residents of Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Government claims that the country has saved over $500 million in the last 20 years alone by making the switch to these much cheaper means for energy production.

Costa Rica is also one of the few countries actually able to produce enough renewable energy to cover its almost 5 million residents, as a much larger country would have to create the infrastructure and capacity to cover many more individuals.

Costa Rica Energy Production Future Goals

In addition to being one of the world leaders in renewable energy production, Costa Rica continues to prove that it is one of the most progressive renewable energy policy makers, and are serious about their goal of carbon neutrality. The current Covid-19 pandemic has also attributed to the rise in renewable energy research in order to cut costs, and officials expect this trend to continue well into the next decade.

In 2021, Costa Rica continues in its efforts to remain carbon neutral, and promises that it will be able to produce over 99% of its energy production via renewable resource energy.

While 99% of the country’s electricity is already produced via renewable energy, the country still faces roadblocks to going green in other sectors of energy consumption. As of 2014, Costa Rica still had a fossil fuel consumption of just under 50% (of total energy production). A large percentage of this can be attributed to the transportation sector, comprising a whopping 66% of all hydrocarbon consumption and around 54% of total carbon dioxide emissions.

While this is a massive hiccup to tackle in Costa Rica’s goals for carbon neutrality, the President of the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) states that plans are already being set in motion to help combat this obstacle.

Plans and policies have been put in place to promote other forms of transportation such as walking and biking, with individuals being rewarded for doing so. The Costa Rican Government also aims to promote the adoption of a completely electric-powered rail system, as well as the production of more eco-friendly vehicles such as electric or biomass fueled cars and trucks.

Final Word

While there are significant obstacles in place, the future of Costa Rica is looking greener every day. While almost 100% of the electric being produced is now via renewable energy, we will see how Costa Rica progresses in the various other sectors carbon neutrality. As other countries eye the success of the country’s renewable energy plan in the midst of climate change, one can’t help but feel encouraged by how far Costa Rica come in the realm of renewable energy, and excited for how far they will go!

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