Costa Rica 2017 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Carlos Obregón Quesada, CEO of Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), on its upcoming projects, achieving 100% energy from renewable sources, and its CSR initiatives.

Carlos Obregón Quesada
Carlos Obregón Quesada is currently CEO of ICE. He holds a degree in civil engineering from the Universidad de Costa Rica and a graduate certificate in hydrology from the University of Padua in Italy. In addition, he has pursued graduate studies in hydroelectric projects in Japan, the US, and Spain. Obregón has been professor of hydrology in the Civil Engineering School at the Universidad de Costa Rica since 1998, and has participated in numerous seminars and conferences in his field. He worked at ICE for more than 35 years as head of hydroelectric projects and Deputy Manager of Energy Development and Electricity.

ICE works in many areas including telecoms, infrastructure projects, and the electricity sector. In which area is ICE currently concentrating the most?

We have a planning outlook of 25 years; electricity demand in recent years has not grown as it did previously. We have had growth at one time of around 5.5%; however, because of economic reasons this figure is now closer to 1.2-2%, as the country is still suffering from the effects of the 2008 recession. We are currently in the last phase of the Reventazon hydroelectric plant project, which will add 305MW of electricity to the country's energy matrix. After that, we will continue working with geothermal, beginning the construction of Pailas II, complete a new 50MW privately owned hydroelectric plant, as well as pursue several private developments where ICE buys its energy. There are two wind power plants of 20MW. Looking ahead, our vision is to begin construction of Diquis hydroelectric plant, which would boast a 650MW capacity.

In recent months, ICE has been undertaking huge investments to expand 3G and 4G coverage in 33 new regions. What have been some of the main highlights of this project?

There are two things that are most important for us, namely wireless coverage and internet access. We are in a constant process of optimization and introducing new improvements to our coverage. We have been making advances in fiber optics, and we still have room to expand further in what we call the “last mile," which is the section in which we still have a great deal of copper. In terms of growing our provision of 3G and 4G services, the best is still yet to come with direct fiber-optic connectivity. In this sense, we can begin the processes of developing applications, as there are intelligent cities, intelligent homes, and a wide availability of services that many developed countries have been implementing.

Costa Rica will soon achieve its goal of 100% renewably sourced electricity generation, mainly from hydro energy. How did this project come together, and how do you foresee Costa Rica achieving this goal?

Everything depends on the plan of development that we have in place, which is adequately balanced, and the hydrological and meteorological conditions at play in Costa Rica. A year of constant generation using 100% renewable sources could be achieved; however, the cost would be high. A balance between risk and benefit should reflect a bit of thermal generation, but in the vast majority of countries throughout the world, thermal energy plays a role of low importance. In 2015, thermal generation was 1.06%, while 4% of our energy supply in 2016 will come from thermal generation, due primarily to the dry weather. In the second quarter, we expect 0% thermal generation, which means that thermal generation of less than 2% is a possible scenario.

Costa Rica and the ICE are greatly characterized by environmental responsibility. What are your main initiatives in this regard?

We have always been associated with environmental and CSR initiatives. When we develop a project, we also generate employment opportunities for the people of the region; our priority is always the people of the region. We have several key measures in terms of the study of environmental impact. We seek to compensate the communities with social work. All our plants are certified, and we are advancing with ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 18001. We have contributed in important ways for many years, declaring zones of reservation, as is the case with Reventazon. In our geothermal projects, all of the steam and water extracted from the soil is then injected back into it, which guarantees that there are no types of environmental pollution. We have systems that are set out at the start of a plant's operation in which we establish different environmental parameters, and we monitor these throughout plant's operation to detect any changes. This approach has, thus far, been successful.