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Costa Rica Runs on Renewables For 75 Days

Heavy rainfall boosts clean energy and lowers power prices

2 min read
Costa Rica Runs on Renewables For 75 Days
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Costa Rica has been coasting on nothing but renewable power since the start of 2015, according to news from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).

The study found that during January, February, and at least the first half of March, the nation’s grid has been running on mostly hydropower, with geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar rounding out the power generation mix. Costa Rica has not had to use any of its oil reserves for electricity.

Heavy rainfall has allowed four hydropower plants to run at maximum capacity. The ICE estimates that the country will continue to see mostly renewable production in the second quarter, with power prices dropping further; a price reduction of up to 15 percent is expected for consumers.

On average, hydropower comprises about 75 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity generation, and geothermal, at about 12 percent, is the country’s second-leading source of power according to the International Energy Agency.  

Costa Rica has an ambitious goal of becoming the first carbon-neutral nation by 2021, although some have questioned how much political support there is for the goal within that timeframe.

The country, which has successfully reforested a large portion of its land, has been voted the “greenest and happiest” country on Earth by the New Economics Foundation. Reforestation has been a priority, but so have large-scale renewable energy projects.

There are plans to open the government-controlled electricity market, according to the UN. There are also incentives for renewable power plants over 7 megawatts. Additionally, government is offering incentives for biofuels.

In 2013, Costa Rican government announced three geothermal projects valued at nearly US $1 billion, with major funding coming form the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. Costa Rica has also been increasing its wind capacity, doubling it to about 150 megawatts at the end of 2013, from 74 megawatts in 2008. In 2014, an additional 49 megawatts of wind power came online.

Costa Rica is not alone in pushing the envelope and achieving impressive gains in clean energy. Last year, Germany met nearly three-quarters of its peak power needs with renewable energy—primarily wind and solar. Another country that already gets nearly all of its electricity from hydro, Norway, is also diversifying its renewables portfolio by investing in wind.

Other countries such as Australia and the United States are adding renewables at an impressive rate, but it still may not be enough to unseat fossil fuels as the primary source of electricity there in coming decades.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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