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What occurs after your nation runs on 99 p.c renewable electrical energy?

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Whereas many of the world nonetheless runs on soiled fossil fuels, Costa Rica has generated practically all of its electrical energy from renewable sources of power for nearly a decade. For comparability, the US generates simply over 20 percent of its electrical energy from renewable sources.

Costa Rica made world headlines in 2015 for producing 100% of its electrical energy from renewable power for 75 days in a row. In the present day, it constantly will get round 99 p.c of its electrical energy from renewables. Even so, it’s not an ideal system. Local weather change poses new dangers to the ability grid, and Costa Rica has plenty of work left to do to get extra photo voltaic and wind farms on-line. 

The Verge spoke with Kenneth Lobo Méndez, director of planning and sustainability in electrical energy administration, and Marco Jiménez Chavez, an engineer who works on technology growth planning on the state-run electrical energy utility Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). We needed to know what’s led to the nation’s success with renewable power and what issues it has to troubleshoot now in a warming world.

We needed to know what’s led to the nation’s success with renewable power and what issues it has to troubleshoot now in a warming world

This interview has been edited for size and readability, and many of the dialog was interpreted from Spanish to English.

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Costa Rica generates round 99 p.c of its electrical energy from renewable sources. How was the nation in a position to accomplish that?

Kenneth Lobo Méndez: The key of this achievement is principally planning. 

Establish the capability of the totally different power sources so you may get the large image about how totally different assets can work collectively to get a renewable system. Within the winter, like a six-month interval from June to December, lots of the hydropower vegetation get surplus flows. That’s when now we have low wind, however now we have extra hydropower. After which in the summertime, like from December to Might maybe, we get low hydropower, so the opposite sources of power complement that electrical energy provide — primarily wind energy, biomass, and geothermal.

Why does Costa Rica rely so closely on hydropower, which makes up 73 p.c of electrical energy technology? 

KLB: There are two most important the explanation why hydropower is so essential within the nation. The primary one is as a result of there’s loads of hydropower assets. Costa Rica lies in a tropical zone with heavy rainfall. And likewise now we have good topography [and] elevation distinction for producing energy. 

The opposite one is that the founders of this utility had the imaginative and prescient. There was a regulation in 1949 [which established ICE] that states that the nation ought to develop its pure assets for electrical energy provide. Hydropower was the one supply or the one expertise that was accessible on the time.

With any power mission, even with clear power, there can nonetheless be injury. There was opposition to large hydroelectric dams as a result of they hurt river ecosystems and displace individuals from their properties. How do you consider these dangers? 

KLB: Planning wants social and environmental elements, it’s crucial. From the beginning of the mission, we get the communities and all of the stakeholders concerned within the mission. We all know that maybe this will likely be a bit of costlier. Nevertheless, with this angle the mission will likely be held with decrease threat and we are able to fulfill our environmental and social necessities.

Kenneth Lobo Méndez, director of planning and sustainability in electrical energy administration on the state-run electrical energy utility Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). The Verge spoke with Lobo Méndez on the Cachí dam in Costa Rica.

How is local weather change affecting electrical energy technology?

KLB: That’s a giant problem, the way to handle the hydropower useful resource sooner or later.

Our personal research have proven that within the quick time period, we received’t see a big influence. Within the mid time period, like in 2030, within the north of the nation, there will likely be a lower in rainfall. A lot of the nation’s hydropower capability is within the north. So, will probably be affected. 

In the long run, what we see is a rise in hydropower manufacturing — however within the west and south of the nation, primarily as a result of rains will get heavier, extra intense in that area.

Marco Jiménez Chavez: There’s a hydroelectric plant referred to as Arenal. It’s one of the crucial essential vegetation within the nation, and it’s within the zone the place we anticipate decrease precipitation resulting from local weather change. Within the south of the nation, we are going to get heavier rainfall. Nevertheless, we are able to’t get that rainfall into our system; our vegetation are usually not able to harness that quantity of water. 

So how will you put together for that?

The factor with a renewable power system is that you simply additionally must diversify so that you simply received’t be subjected to solely the supply of water. You’ll be able to keep away from that threat and share the danger with the opposite power sources. Hydropower will nonetheless be a fantastic proportion of the nation’s power combine, however new power sources will likely be added to the system, for instance: solar energy and wind. One other essential supply is geothermal as a result of it’s the one renewable power supply that doesn’t depend upon local weather variability.

We’ve bought an issue as a result of hydropower doesn’t have the identical variability as photo voltaic wind. So, if we get extra photo voltaic and extra wind, our system can have extra variability. So, we have to get again as much as that variability. And that’s the place batteries are additionally essential.

Marco Jiménez Chavez, an engineer who works on technology growth planning on the state-run electrical energy utility Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). The Verge spoke with Jiménez Chavez on the Cachí dam in Costa Rica.

What results did El Niño and drought have in 2023?

KLB: There are two results that El Nino has on the nation. The primary one is on the demand aspect as a result of the local weather is hotter, so everyone is utilizing the air conditioners and the electrical energy demand will get increased. 

The opposite impact is a big discount in hydropower not solely in Arenal but in addition in different energy vegetation throughout the nation. We bought a 16 p.c discount in influx to our hydropower reservoirs.

Within the wet season, our reservoirs usually get well. Nevertheless, they’ve been extraordinarily low in 2023. So, our most important concern is that the new season in 2024 will likely be a bit of bit sophisticated. 

Does drought result in burning extra fossil fuels?

KLB: We have to have insurance coverage for the interval once we don’t have inexperienced energy, we don’t have hydropower. So, we get a small proportion of electrical energy from diesel thermal energy vegetation, however solely as a backup.

It’s suspected that diesel thermal energy plant use will enhance in 2024 due to low hydropower. One other useful resource that we are able to faucet is electrical energy from the regional electrical energy market with Central American nations. Nevertheless, as a result of we’re in the identical area, in addition they have the identical issues. They’ve additionally bought low hydropower; there’s not plenty of assets within the area to share.

Within the US, we’re used to many smaller personal electrical utilities. Does having a nationwide power firm like ICE make it simpler to undertake renewable power?

KLB: In our perspective, sure, it’s a bonus that the planning is held by a authorities state firm. It might probably make a plan for the nation in keeping with the federal government’s imaginative and prescient. We solely promote what we want, and there’s no interference from totally different stakeholders. It makes the planning course of extra easy.

Pictures by Justine Calma / The Verge

The International Center for Journalists supported this reporting, and Punto y Aparte contributed to the report.



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