THE SHINING SUN

Costa Rica 2018 | GREEN ECONOMY | FOCUS: SOLAR ENERGY

Costa Rica rolls out its first solar energy projects for the purpose of distribution to households, supplying residential power demands and advancing Costa Rica's already green reputation.

In the last decade, Costa Rican companies have started to develop solar energy solutions for small and specific projects, mainly for the private sector. However, electricity distribution companies such as Coopeguanacaste see opportunities in solar energy for the distribution of electricity to Costa Rican households.

Companies like Enertiva, Green Energy, Sunshine Energía Solar, and Yuxta have seen an area of opportunity and supply solar energy solutions to households and industries. This has aided companies in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, construction, and services to become more efficient in their energy consumption and receive sustainability certifications. Eduardo Kopper, General Manager of Sunshine Energía Solar, told TBY that the solar panel is transforming the industry in dramatic ways because it allows them to generate energy where it is needed and to customize energy generation conveniently.
More companies have opened up to the generation of solar energy, mainly because of the opening of the market and the decrease of costs for solar panels. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Alejandro Brenes, CEO of Enertiva explained, “We identified that one of the key drivers of this revolution was going to be solar energy and that the region has a good solar resource. The worst place in Costa Rica is better than the best place in Germany." He added that as prices of production inputs were going down and technology was improving, they found an opportunity in solar solutions to fill the gap.
However, it is necessary that the distribution of electricity from photovoltaic sources extends to a larger number of people, not only the private sector. This can only be possible with public-private alliances, so distributors can have access to the newest technologies. Along with ICE, there are other regional distributors, like Coopeguanacaste, serving the region of Guanacaste, and Coopelesca, distributing energy in the region of San Carlos. In fact, Coopeguanacaste has recently formed a partnership with Panasonic Central America in order to install solar panels in the region and generate a capacity of 5MW that will benefit about 2,000 households in the region.
Though more can be done to augment solar energy generation efforts as only a very small portion of energy is generated from solar sources. Costa Rica's model of sustainability has been recognized as one of the best in the world. This small nation of 4.8 million inhabitants stands out for generating roughly 98% of its electricity from renewable sources. This feat has been possible due to the large investments of the state-owned electric company ICE in projects like the Reventazón hydroelectric plant, in the province of Limón. According to ICE, renewable sources include hydroelectric plants (74.39%), geothermal energy (12.43%), wind plants (10.65%), biomass (0.73%), and solar panels (0.01%).
Generation from solar energy is noticeably low, especially bearing in mind that globally the generation of electricity from solar sources is 1%. The problem lies in the country's regulatory framework regarding electricity generation. Furthermore, the national utility company has set a limit for solar panels to generate a maximum of 15% per circuit.
With new legislation being discussed in parliament, it might be possible that more companies produce solar energy, having been provided a robust and conducive framework that regulates the industry. Moreover, the fast advancement of technologies, with better panels and more capable accumulators, will only boost the potential of this industry.
Although most of the electricity produced in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources, this commitment is not without its costs, and solar energy—with its advancing technology, decreasing cost, applicability in Costa Rica, and minimal impact on the ecosystem— will only validate the country's vocation to preserve the environment and maintain its status as a leader in green energy.