Clean Tech

Costa Rica pushes green to clean

Updated on: Mar 10, 2018

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For over two months, the country ran on electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as hydro and wind

Costa Rica has just gone past yet another clean energy milestone, something other countries can only dream of. For over two months now, the tiny Central American country has not used fossil fuels to generate electricity.

According to a report published by Costa Rica’s National Center for Energy Control (CENCE), the country ran completely on renewable energy for 76 straight days — from June 16 to September 2 — and completed a total of 150 days of carbon-free electricity this year. The country, which is rich in natural resources, has achieved this feat for the second time in two years.

Last year, Costa Rica, home to almost five million people, ran on renewable energy for 285 days, an example that other small countries could emulate.

This year, it could not reach the figure they set last time. But the country is trying to complete this year without burning the fossil fuel.

According to the data published by the CENCE, between June 16 and August 31 this year, Costa Rica’s energy needs were met solely by renewable energy – 80.27 per cent came from hydroelectric power, 12.62 per cent from geothermal energy, 7.1 per cent from wind and 0.01 per cent generated by solar energy.

What helps are the country’s climatic conditions: Costa Rica receives heavy rain through half of the year, and its hydroelectric stations generate electricity throughout the year.

For the past two years, the country experienced above-average rainfall, allowing its biggest reservoirs to produce enough power to meet virtually all of the country’s electricity needs.

Another 12 per cent of the country’s electricity comes from geothermal plants. In 2014, after a brutal drought that forced power operators to rely more heavily on diesel generators, Costa Rica’s legislature approved a $958-million geothermal plant, backed by loans from Europe and Japan.

This is now up and running, and is able to produce electricity round the year, but not enough to meet their needs.

Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies, and is the only country to meet all United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) criteria established to measure environmental sustainability.

It also gives importance to energy conservation and is planning to become carbon-neutral by 2021.While smaller nations could take a leaf out of Costa Rica’s success in renewable energy, countries like India may not be able to wholly emulate the model.

At 51,000 square kilometres, Costa Rica is just the size of Punjab, and consumes very little energy compared to India. And yet each of India’s states could follow a similar policy.

Indian States could produce clean energy from solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power plants. It could decrease the use of coal energy, which currently supplies 80 per cent of the country’s electricity needs.

Replicating the Costa Rican model, though, might create problems: building huge dams across rivers will raise environmental hazards, submerging ecologies and depriving populations of homes and livelihood.

The flip side

Analysts feel Costa Rica’s over-dependence on hydroelectricity will cost it in the future if it were to suffer a drought, even one of a lesser impact than 2014.

Besides, the country, like the rest of the world, uses petrol and diesel to run its vehicles. And most its homes still use firewood. This also has a big impact on the environment.

Analysts advice policy makers to generate more clean energy from other renewable sources and also start using alternatives for oil and firewood to achieve their 2021 goal of a carbon-neutral country. While that may be a little way off, for now it is Costa Rica’s feats that deserve to be cheered.

Published on September 13, 2016
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