Clean Power

Published on March 20th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


Costa Rica Powered By 100% Renewable Energy For First 75 Days Of 2015

March 20th, 2015 by  

Originally published on RenewEconomy.
By Sophie Vorrath

The Latin American country of Costa Rica has achieved the milestone of generating 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources, with a combination of hydropower and geothermal for 75 days in a row, the the state-owned Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) said.

Boosted by good rains at four of he country’s main hydroelectric plants, ICE said that, according to National Electric System figures, it had not been necessary to use hydrocarbons to supply the country’s grid at all in 2015, for the months of January, February and so far in March.

“With these (rain) conditions and the reserves accumulated to date, the ICE estimates that the downward trend in rates for all consumers will continue in the second quarter,” the power agency was quoted as saying in the Latin American Herald Tribune.

Of course, Costa Rica already has an outstanding record on efficient, clean and cheap electricity generation, ranking No. 2 in Latin America for providing a household coverage rate of 99.4 per cent at some of the region’s lowest prices.

According to the transnational institute, 250kWh would be enough satisfy the monthly needs of low- and middle-income Costa Rican households, at a cost of around 7 per cent of the minimum salary.

And their record on renewables is very good too. The country generated as much as 80 per cent of its electricity from hydro power as recently as last year – although recent droughts had led to the back-up use of diesel fuel.

And in 2010 it was reported that about 13 per cent of the Latin American nation’s energy came from geothermal.

Now, Costa Rica is in the process of adding several big new geothermal plants, after a $US958 million proposal was approved by the government in mid-2014.

The project, which is being co-funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the European Investment Bank, is expected to be located in Guanacaste near Rincón de la Vieja.

The first plants are expected to generate about 55MW and cost around $333 million to build. Two other 50MW plants will be built as well, about 40km from the Pailas II plants.

Once operational, it is expected the plants could generate electricity at about five cents per kilowatt-hour.

Reprinted with permission.

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  • Victor Provenzano

    This kind of article keeps making it onto my beloved CleanTechnica website for apparently inexplicable reasons. A “renewable” energy source is not in any way necessarily a sustainable energy source. Big hydro, which furnishes Costa Rica with 80% of its electricity, is an entirely ecologically unsound and unsustainable energy source in a tropical or subtropical climate. The climate of Costa Rica is tropical all year round and thus the net carbon emissions of its big hydro power plants (from 1300 to 3000 kg CO2eq/MWh) can be up to 3 and a third times as high those of coal (from 900 to 1200 kg CO2eq/MWh). In a tropical climate, when you flood a landscape behind a dam, especially a forested landscape, all the trees, other plant life, wildlife, soil biota and organic matter in the soil begin to slowly emit carbon, especially methane, as they rot under water. Here is a detailed scientific study of the issue: (

    • Bob_Wallace

      Are the reservoirs in CR extremely shallow like the one on which your outrage is based?

    • Larmion

      Interesting. The figures you quote are identical to those reported for the Balbina and Samuel reservoir in the Amazon basin. Later studies on other dams in the same region found much lower values – likely because Balbina and Samuel are extremely unusual reservoirs (they have a huge surface to volume ratio as well as unusually dense vegetation and remarkably high microbial activity due to nutrient influx).

      Those same studies also assumed that all carbon emissions were NET emissions. Since there is a continuous influx of recently formed organic matter (decaying leafs, for example) a significant chunk of CO2 emissions are not related to the hydro-electric power plant and are in fact not even net emissions.

      Even more interestingly, reservoirs (like most ecosystems) turn from net carbon sources into net carbon sinks after equilibrium has been reached (after roughly 30 years for most hydropower plants). The sink effect is small – too small to fully compensate the years when the plant was a source – but it does sharply cut lifetime emissions.

      The IPCC in its latest 2014 report annex lists power sources by their lifetime CO2-equivalent emissions (so including methane!). Hydropower ranked lowest on the list, well below PV or wind with 4g CO2/kWh produced on average (compared with 46g for PV, 12 for wind and 1000 for coal).

      But who is the distinguished panels of scientists forming the IPCC to disagree with a few lawyers?

      • Victor Provenzano

        If the IPCC is talking about “hydropower on a global scale,” including all the installations in all the various climate zones, then such a statement would indeed be accurate. However, that, of course, has nothing at all to do with my own clearly defined statement above in which I referred ONLY to hydropower “in a “tropical or subtropical” climate and in which I added that Costa Rica has a “tropical” climate “year round.”

        If you read the scientific study from Synapse Energy that I shared above to carefully corroborate my statement, you will see that it compares on page 2, in its initial table, the net carbon emissions of:

        (a) hydropower with “run of river” or with a non-tropical reservoir (only 0.5 to 152 kg CO2eq/MWh) to

        (b) big hydro with a newly flooded boreal reservoir (160 to 250 kg CO2eq/MWh),

        (c) big hydro with a tropical reservoir (1300 to 3000 kg CO2eq/MWh) and—-now skipping ahead—-to

        (f) coal (900 to 1200 kg CO2eq/MWh).

        Thus, the study by Synapse Energy—-to which, of course, I only referred with respect to “tropical or subtropical” hydro—–contains findings that are highly similar to those of the IPCC. Yet the study also shows that even in temperate or northern climates, big hydro is, by no means, a “non-carbon” source of “renewable” energy but only a “somewhat lesser” source of net carbon emissions.

        If we are to survive as a species, the goal in climate mitigation has to be decarbonization and sustainablity, not mere “renewability” (which can, at times, be an entirely unsound ecological choice). Since many of the countries that are now adding hydropower installations are in either tropical or subtropical zones (as compared to the more northern climes in which big hydro installations were first being built in the 20th century), the net carbon emissions per MWh from “hydropower on a global scale” are now clearly rising significantly.

        This is, without a doubt, a problem.

        Every nation on earth needs to get with the program. That program is decarbonization, long-term sustainability, human survival and the limiting, to a maximal degree, of a global mass extinction that is already clearly underway. This program will likely require such elements as cradle to cradle design, the reduced use of virgin resources, maximal energy efficiency, the use of wind and solar as our new electrical power sources with some geothermal (and a smattering of others), the use of electric cars, the lightweighting of all land, sea and air vehicles, reforestation on a global scale, the restoration of grasslands, the storing of carbon in farm soils, and so on. As for the future of big hydro in this schema, most of the best sites around the world have long had dams on them. Moreover, the
        combination of big hydro’s net carbon emissions, its very wide landscape footprint, its effect on wildlife and plant life, its interruption of the natural water cycle, its undermining of mangroves, wetlands and natural flood plains, and its inhumane displacement of many thousands of people (over a million in the case of the Three Gorges Dam), all make it an unwise human, economic and ecological choice.

        That said, big hydro still has a role to play in the transition to a sustainable energy future in the non-tropical climate zones (e.g., in Europe and in North America). In the more northern climes, big hydro can be a source of lower carbon baseload power for the grid during the transition to sustainability and it can also be used as a source of reserve power that is similar to pumped hydro.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s not the climatic zone. It’s the depth of the reservoir.

          The Balbina, “The worst hydroelectric plant in the world” flooded an immense area. The area is fairly flat so reservoir volume was created by shallow flooding a vast area. An unusually high amount of vegetation was covered.

          You are using an outlier and attempting to claim that other tropical and semitropical reservoirs would have the same problem based on their geographical location.

          • Larmion

            Climatic zone is part of it actually.

            All microbial processes are markedly slower at low temperatures and some don’t even happen at all. The conversion of organic matterinto methane is neglible at lower temperatures.

            Also important: cool water dissolves more oxygen. That tends to favor respiration (with CO2 as an end product) over fermentation (with various end products, including methane).

            And finally, a warm climate generally has denser vegetation. A boreal forest has much less biomass per hectare than a tropical rainforest, so there’s less biomass to convert into greenhouse gases.

            A dam in Canada will emit less GHG than an identical dam in Brazil. That said, it’ll be virtually neglible in both cases.

            That doesn’t change what you say though. Balbina is an outlier and basing an argument on it alone is deeply dishonest.

          • Victor Provenzano

            Helpful, thoughtful and highly pertinent comments, Larmion. Thanks.

          • Victor Provenzano

            Bob, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Balbina, which I, of course, did not mention in either of my comments above and which is also not mentioned at any point in the article on hydropower that I shared above as a corroboration of my initial statement. The study by Synapse Energy that I cited in detail in my second comment is, to a degree, initially, a comparison of the net emissions of a various categories of hydropower with the net emissions of conventional carbon-based power sources: natural gas, oil and coal. The comparison is broken down specifically ON THE BASIS OF CLIMATE ZONES: the “boreal” and the “tropical.” The article also addresses a number of other variables that are in play with respect to hydropower, namely (a) temperature, (b) water residence time, (c) the shape and volume of the reservoir, (c) the amount of plant matter that is submerged, (d) the depth of the reservoir, (e) the age of the reservoir and (f) its geographic location (thus, its altitude, its climate zone, and so on). Your statement that it is “not the climate zone but the depth of the reservoir” is, thus, clearly incorrect. The difference between the carbon emissions of a hydropower plant based on its climate zone—-the main distinction being between a “tropical” climate zone and a “boreal” climate zone—-is EXPONENTIAL. The full range of emissions for boreal reservoirs of whatever depth, as well as for run of the river installations, is 0.5 to 250 kg of CO2 equivalent per MWh. In contrast, the full range of emissions for tropical reservoirs of whatever depth is 1300 to 3000 kg of CO2 equivalent per MWh. Thus, at first glance, a tropical reservoir of whatever depth emits a minumum of FIVE AND A HALF times as much carbon as a boreal reservoir of whatever depth and, in the full scope of things, such a tropical reservoir can emit up to A FEW ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE as much. In comparion, the difference in carbon emissions based on the depth of the reservoir—-which is only one of the six major variables in play in a hydropower installation—-would, of logical necessity, have to be highly limited, in relative terms. There are only so many orders of magnitude to be observed in the study’s emissions comparisons and it is the hydropower installation’s climate zone alone—-specifically the tropical climate zone—-that succeeds in attaining both (a) those same significant orders of magnitude and (b) the highest relative carbon emissions numbers by far (up to 3000 kg of CO2 equivalent per MWh).

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” The article also addresses a number of other variables that are in play with respect to hydropower, namely (a) temperature, (b) water residence time, (c) the shape and volume of the reservoir, (c) the amount of plant matter that is submerged, (d) the depth of the reservoir, (e) the age of the reservoir and (f) its geographic location (thus, its altitude, its climate zone, and so on). Your statement that it is “not the climate zone but the depth of the reservoir” is, thus, clearly incorrect. ”

            You say – “Your statement that it is “not the climate zone but the depth of the reservoir” is, thus, clearly incorrect.” ” right after you list multiple depth-related factors –

            “(c) the shape and volume of the reservoir, (c) the amount of plant matter that is submerged, (d) the depth of the reservoir”

            Another factor – “(a) temperature” is also related to reservoir depth. Shallow water heats faster than deep.

            An additional factor ” (b) water residence time” may, in fact, be a depth issue. As the water falls in a shallow reservoir more land is uncovered, allowing more vegetation to grow and then rot when recovered.

            (BTW, were you absent the day paragraphs were taught?)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oh, another bit. I tried to read your linked page but the link is broken. Searching on the site does not find the paper using “hydropower ghg”.

          • Victor Provenzano
          • Victor Provenzano

            The numbers are now before you, Bob.

            The highest emissions for a “boreal” reservoir of whatever depth that is “newly flooded” (250 kg of CO2 eq per MWh) are still TWELVE TIMES LESS than the highest emissions of a “tropical” reservoir of whatever depth (3000 kg of CO2 eq per MWh). This is so in spite of the momentary statistical advantage that you seemed, at least, to gain here from the “new flooding” of the reservoir.

            The highest emissions for a “non-tropical” reservoir of whatever depth that has not been “newly flooded” (152 kg of CO2 eq per MWh) are still almost TWENTY TIMES LESS than the highest emissions of a “tropical” reservoir of whatever depth (3000 kg of CO2 eq per MWh).

            Thus, your argument has apparently changed nothing, Bob, for it simply “does not hold water”…of whatever depth.


          • Bob_Wallace

            From the linked study –

            “however, that “to our knowledge, GHG emissions have been measured for only 18 of the 741 large dams…listed
            in the tropics”

            Before the numbers can be accepted one would need to assure that the 18 are representative and not skewed by the inclusion of a higher ratio of the very shallow reservoirs in the sample. Balbina is about

            I suspect you would have trouble finding shallow reservoirs in boreal areas.

          • Victor Provenzano

            Oddly enough, the only data available at this point is the data cited above, Bob. A wider data set is, it seems to me, not even minimally likely to begin to change the overall mathematical comparison between the emissions of “tropical” hydro, those of “non-tropical” hydro, and those of “boreal” hydro. The authors of the study did not “rely” on any “high outliers,” they relied, rather, on the FULL RANGE of emissions levels for EACH category of hydro that they analyzed. Both the low ranges and high ranges of each category showed that the emissions of “tropical” hydro were significantly higher or even exponentially higher than those of hydro in “boreal” and “non-tropical” zones. A much wider data set is highly unlikely to change that.

            That said, it was, quite sadly, reasonably clear to me from the beginning that you, on the other hand, were likely to continue to be more or less resolute in your denial of the only facts that are now available to us. The will to truth, empiricism, a reliance on the available facts, critique and self-critique have, it seems to me, always been far more essential to good science and to the Enlightenment than trying to win an argument at any cost.

            I am going out for the evening. Good night.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Victor, I am questioning the facts that you are accepting out of hand.

            18 out of 741 dams were measured. That’s a 2% sample with no indication there was effort to make it a representative sample.

            What if they were all shallow reservoir dams? What if no deep water reservoirs were included in the data sample?

            The ranges may be correct, but they could also be badly flawed.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Chasing the data source back…


            It seems that the numbers were based on an estimate of area flooded. I’ve not found any actual measurements for existing dams in that paper.

            This is from the abstract for what seems the data source for “18 out of 741″.

            ” However, to our knowledge, GHG emissions have been measured for only 18 of the 741 large dams (>10Â MW, according to the ICOLD register) listed in the tropics. This article reviews the limited scientific information available and concludes that, at this time, no global position can be taken regarding the importance and extent of GHG emissions in warm latitudes.”


          • Larmion

            Wait. We know the dataset you cited includes at the very least two samples that are known outliers. That means at least 11% of your dataset is made up of outliers.

            If I tried to submit a paper to a scientific journal that used an 18 member sample, it’d be rejected. If that sample included such a high share of outliers on top of that, my career would be over.

            Your reasoning is deeply flawed. It can be distilled into this: “in the absence of good evidence, we must work with poor evidence rather than not draw a conclusion at all”.

            That’s not true to science or the Enlightenment ideals it is based on. A scientist always questions the validity of existing data and, if he or she has good reason to suspect they are wrong or incomplete, will try to gather more data or at least to simply refrain from judgment until someone else does.

  • jtizzle

    It would be nice to see them provide links to data to back up this claim: showing the electricity generation numbers from both geo thermal and hydropower to contribute to this supposed 100% of total electricity consumed by the country of costa Rica. It would also be more responsible if they put into perspective how much of the country’s total energy usage electricity contributes to. While very nice if true this whole story seems hard to believe and probably not entirely true.

    • No way

      Costa Rica have been in the high 90’s for renewable electricity, basically 100% for a while and are aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2020, being maybe the first country to get there.
      So the 100% renewable electricity isn’t surprising nor all that impressive. There are plenty of countries with 100% renewable electricity.

  • TRK

    where is solar?????

    • Larmion

      What on earth would Costa Rica want solar for, except for off-grid purposes?

      Its entire electricity demand can apparently be covered by hydro and geothermal. Both can deliver reliable, dispatchable electricity for roughly 5 cents/kWh. That’s a price wind, let alone solar, can’t hope to match (yet).

      Solar’s for those miserable sods who don’t happen to live underneath a seismically active area or have favorable topography nearby. That’s to say, most of us.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Onshore wind in the US interior is now under 4 cents. Without subsidies.

        • Larmion

          Is it fair to compare a mature market with excellent logistics and capital markets and world-class wind resources with a small emerging nation?

          That 4 cent figure is unique to the US. Even Germany or the UK are nowhere close.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” That’s a price wind, let alone solar, can’t hope to match (yet).”

            Wind has met that price.

            Does CR have the wind resource to bring that price? I don’t know. But you not not specify wind resources in your original statement.

      • Bob_Wallace

        CR might want some solar to deal with daytime peak demand. Cheaper to install solar than “5 cent” power you don’t need 24 hours a day.

      • Hernan Tasies

        Actually, we’re working on solar, and panels are being introduced for residential. We have 2 stations; a 5-month completely dry season with high winds (good for solar and wind) and 7 months of complete rain.

  • Larmion

    May I suggest we use bloggers and editors that fail to distinguish energy and electricity as a source of sustainable biomass?

    Costa Rica has a primary energy demand of 0,19 quadrillion BTU, or 56 billion kWh. Its electricity consumption was 9 billion kWh (both figures from 2012). Even if we assume that electricity’s share of energy use has grown after three years of economic development, it’s clear that CR is nowhere close to 100% renewable energy.

    • Matt

      Electric being 1/6 of the country’s energy use sounds low. EIA puts electric at 39% in world for 2011. Note that since so much energy is lost as heat when you use coal to make electric. Every GW of coal electric replaced by RE is a double hit since the total energy drops.

      • Larmion

        The median Costa Rican household uses under 300kWh of electricity annually and industrial development is rather limited.

        The share of electricity in total energy use tends to increase dramatically with wealth; in poor countries 1/6 is not uncommon – industries like tourism and agriculture/food use a lot of energy, but most of it is due to as-of-yet unelectrified transport and process heat.

        And even if we assume EIA’s figures are off by a large margin, it’s still perfectly obvious that CR is currently closer to 0% renewable energy than to 100% RE (as virtually every nation in the world is).

        • Ross

          How about “a lot done, more to do”.

        • Mike Shurtleff

          300kWh per household, maybe.
          Close to 100% RE, definitely!

          Old engineering adage:
          “Assumption is the root of all error.”

    • Mike Shurtleff

      You are assuming this is unlikely without looking up the facts. You happen to be wrong. Look here:

      2012 data. Still 2/3 hydro. 1/3 is mostly geothermal, wind, and biomass, in that order. I read somewhere 99% penetration of the electrical grid. Costa Rica is more developed than most people in the US seem to know. Clean water, low cost electricity, good roads (despite very rugged terrain), and good public health system.

      Probably easily over 90%, close to 100%, and this article is only claiming a full 100% for the first 75 days of this year. Just because it’s hard to believe doesn’t mean it’s not true.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Costa Rica is a unique country. In 1948 they decided to not have an army but to spend their tax dollars on health care and public infrastructure.

        It was a unique country even before. It was never heavily exploited by the Spanish by enslaving the local population and created huge wealth differences. Instead CR received a lot of Spanish farmers and ‘blue collar’ types and ended up with a country in which most people live a modest, but comfortable lifestyle.

        (I came very close to moving there 25 years ago. If the internet had existed I would have likely moved.)

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