Focus: Green Energy

Greener Than Ever

Feb. 2, 2017

Nowadays, Costa Rica has the cleanest energy matrix in the world. 2021 is set to be a historic date as it marks the bicentenary of independence and the year that Costa Ricans expect to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world.

Costa Rica emits 21.7 million tons of CO2 per year, and its forest areas, which account for 52% of the national territory, offset 15.9 million of these tons. The remaining 5.8 million tons need to be reduced or compensated for in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021.

Taking scope of the planet, the five countries with the highest use of renewables are Costa Rica (99%), Uruguay (94.4%), Austria (70%), Djibouti (65%), and Sweden (63.3%), placing Costa Rica in an enviable position, to put it mildly.

96.9% of the electricity generated in Costa Rica during the first six months of 2016 came from clean sources, according to a report released by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE). Of that, 3,636GWh (69.36% of electricity) was generated by hydroelectric plants; 701.5GWh (13.38%) by geothermal energy; 639.9GWh (12.2%) from wind; GWh73.4 (1.4%) from biomass; and 8GWh (0.02%) from p hotovoltaics. The total use of fossil-based sources in the first half of the year was merely 191GWh, or 3.64%. And projections for the end of 2016 are that only 2% of the country's electricity will be generated by fossil fuel-powered plants.
Yet, topography and climate are not the only reasons for the country's success; the education and awareness of Costa Ricans has also been crucial. Most of the electricity generation in Costa Rica comes from hydropower, due to its large network of rivers and tropical rains. But wind, biomass, geothermal and solar energy are also playing an important part and helping to demonstrate that bulbs can be switched on without using fossil fuels at all.

Public-sector institutions such the Ministry of Energy and Environment (Minae), ICE, and several other civil society organizations are working toward achieving carbon-neutrality by 2021. However, it is important to highlight that from 2012 to date, a total of 69 private companies have also sought to become carbon neutral by compensating for their emissions, either by reforestation projects or increasing efficiency in energy use. This shows the commitment of a whole country to achieve a common goal.

Steps forward

Many other countries in this part of the world have also significantly advanced in this regard. According to data from UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Honduras has also taken major steps to replace fossil fuels, with 420MW of renewable capacity. This is mainly thanks to its 12 photovoltaic plants, which accumulatively generate 388MW. In 2015, Panama produced a total of 290MW of renewable energy, divided between the 150MW Penonomé wind farm and hydroelectric plants such Bajo Frío (58MW), Las Cruces (9.7MW), and Bonyic (31.8MW). Six solar plants have also begun operations. In Guatemala, 369MW of power comes from renewable energies like biomass, two wind farms, two solar plants, and several small hydroelectric plants. El Salvador added 46MW from biomass. In 2015, Nicaragua opened the Larreinaga hydroelectric plant and La Trinidad solar plant.

The ECLAC report also points out that of the total production of electricity in the eight countries that make up the SICA (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize, and Dominican Republic), 54% came from renewable sources and the remaining 46% from oil and fossil fuels.

Once beyond its goal of carbon neutrality, Costa Rica is targeting the decarbonization of the entire economy by 2050. It has made important investments in hydroelectric and geothermal energy projects and, thanks to higher expected rains in future years, that goal could be achieved even earlier than originally planned.