Costa Rica’s energy is supplied by using 5 different renewable sources: hydro-power (78%), wind (10%), geothermal (10%), biomass and solar (1%). Recently, the country went 271 days without burning fossil fuels for electricity. More than 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity is produce this way.
As a country, Costa Rica has a geographical advantage over others because of its high concentration per capita of rivers, dams, and volcanoes. Additionally, we come in fourth place worldwide for rainfall with an average of 115 inches of precipitation per year. The rain fall depends on the region, areas to the south and east tend to get substantially more than the Pacific Northwest and the Playa Hermosa area. Plus, we, as I include myself as this is now my permanent home, are a smallish nation with a population of only 5 million and no major industries requiring strong energy infrastructure; hence the lower energy demand.
Costa Rica’s largest dams include the Lake Arenal Dam, Lake Cachi Dam, Rio Marcho Dam, Pirris Dam and the Reventazon Dam. Lake Arenal provides enough electricity to power 12% of the country. The other dams are all powered by the Reventazon River and its tributaries. The Reventazon is now the largest hydroelectric project in Central America.
Guanacaste province is home to the country’s geothermal fields powered by the subterranean heat of the Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja and Tenorio volcanoes. It is a cool concept but costly to get started: Drilling large tunnels into the core of the volcano, extracting the steam which turns the turbines to create electricity. Then the byproduct being water is pumped back down into the volcano to reheat and make more steam.
Windmills are becoming a common sight in Costa Rica. Wind power is primarily used in Costa Rica during the months of December to March. These particularly windy months coincide with a period of decreased rainfall which decreases hydropower output, making wind power the perfect stand-in.
However, the country’s demand for oil is actually growing because of its gasoline-dependent transportation sector. According to Costa Rica’s State of the Region report, the country has approximately 287 cars per 1,000 people, surpassing both the world and Latin American average. In a recent year, more vehicles were registered than births. In a previous blog, I mentioned what the government is doing to promote the purchase and/or importation of electric cars to reduce the carbon footprint.
What alternative energy options are available to you, the homeowner, in Costa Rica? Being located near the equator, Costa Rica has a high amount of sunny days during the entire year, so the country has a huge solar power potential. This is especially true in the drier (read: sunnier) region of Guanacaste, where energy consumption due to air conditioning is high.
Solar power would seem to be a no-brainer. So, why doesn’t everyone have a solar panel on their roof? Solar power has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated power would cut into the state electricity company’s (ICE’s) profits, on which they have a monopoly.
But wouldn’t the cost of installing solar panels be more than the cost of paying your electric bill? Only at first, maybe? It has been estimated that the cost of installing solar panels on a typical 1200 square foot house would be recouped in 5 years through energy savings. Though ICE will not buy your power from you, they will “bank” it for you to use when your consumption exceeds your generation, effectively zeroing out your electric bill from the start. After 5 years, you will be living scott-free, as far as electric bills go.
That said, there are a lot of conflicting thoughts out there on the subject. Some think it is the greatest thing since white bread, until they have to purchase more panels or new batteries and the 5 year payback ends up being much longer. Only time will tell if Solar is the way to go. And not to leave out, the waters are further muddied by sales pitches and marketing, so do your research and calculate accordingly.
In the meantime, use Costa Rica’s natural resources to fuel your happiness: bask in the sun, bathe in the water, let the wind fill your sails, and soak in the hot springs. You will find yourself re-energized with out the need for Costa Rica’s energy supply!