Energy prices fall in Costa Rica with 100% renewable

There
are a lot of things to love about Costa Rica. It has great weather, tremendous
biodiversity, no army, and top-notch education and health care. Now, the
tropical paradise is also even greener than ever. According to the state-run
Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the country has produced 100 percent
of its electricity without fossil fuels for the first 75 days of 2015. Wind,
solar and biomass got a strong boost from hydropower, which benefited from
heavy rains.


One
key to Costa Rica’s renewable energy growth: geothermal power sources, such as
hot springs.

This
burst of clean energy has led to a lowering of electric rates by 12 percent.
ICE predicts that rates will continue to fall into the second quarter. The
country is also a leader in low energy prices. The average Costa Rican requires
just 7 percent of the minimum salary to pay for energy, compared with the Latin
American average of 14.6 percent. The government announced in 2009 that it had
set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021. The nation already gets an
average of 88 percent of its energy from renewables — a number that seems
likely to go up soon.


The
mix relies heavily on hydropower (68 percent) and geothermal (15 percent),
which should not be surprising for a land set out among volcanoes and rain
forests.

Power pitfalls
The
heavy reliance on rainfall for power generation does make the country
susceptible to climate-related disruptions, such as shifting rainfall patterns.
That’s why the Costa Rican legislature approved a $958 million geothermal
project last year to help reduce the country’s dependence on hydropower. Four
plants with a total capacity of 210MW will be erected in the region near the
Rincón de la Vieja volcano in Guanacaste. The plants are expected to produce
power at five cents per kilo-watt hour.

Renewable revenue
Costa
Rica, with its population of 4.8 million, has taken a leading role in
preserving its natural resources, which has led to a shift towards ecotourism
as a major source of revenue. A total of 124 national parks, nature reserves
and wildlife refuges cover as much as 25 percent of a country that once
seriously was threatened by deforestation. As much as 80 percent of the
rainforest has disappeared since WWII, mostly to make room for cattle ranching.
A number of initiatives in place today emphasize sustainable use of the
remaining forests.

Leading the pack
While
Costa Rica certainly deserves recognition for all that it has accomplished, one
tiny nation is slightly ahead of it, at least in terms of renewable energy.
That would be the Dutch island of Bonaire, off the coast of Venezuela. Bonaire,
with its year-round population of 14,500 people — supplemented by 70,000 annual
tourist visitors — is tiny by any measure. Its peak electrical demand is a mere
11 megawatts. But when that power was provided by diesel plants, driven by fuel
that had to be shipped in, it was not only dirty, but expensive. After a fire
wiped out the diesel plant, the nation installed 12 wind turbines, with enough
capacity to meet the island’s total demand, at least when the wind is blowing.
The turbines are augmented by a 6 MWh battery backup system to carry them
through brief wind lulls.

For
longer periods, there are more diesel generators, but these soon will be run on
locally grown bio-diesel produced from algae. When this capability is fully
operational, the island will have 100 percent renewable power, with 40 to 45
percent coming from wind and the rest coming from the biodiesel. Electricity
prices also have come down for residents. So, tiny Bonaire has set the bar,
followed by Costa Rica. Who else will step up to the plate and claim some clean
energy bragging rights? This article originally appeared on JustMeans.

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