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Costa Rica: a country with 99% renewable energy?

In 2018 Costa Rica share to the world that 99% of its electric energy was generated from renewable sources. This positioned us as one of the most environmentally friendly countries. We became a world reference. However, the reality of subsequent years has not been the same.

Renewable energy versus clean energy

To begin with, it is important to understand the difference between renewable electric energy and clean electric energy. Renewable energy comes from renewable sources, such as hydroelectric energy. It is that type of energy where we can reuse the same resource to generate electricity over and over again. Although renewable energy is better than energy generated by fossil fuels, it costs a lot of money for Costa Ricans. Building electric plants mean a high investment. In addition, they involve intervening in the environment by cutting down trees, modifying river flows, sonic pollution, among other factors. There are even renewable energy plants that use equipment that burn fossil fuels to properly operate.

Clean electric energy, on the other hand, is energy that is produced with sources such as solar, wind, biomass, without the need to intervene in the environment to operate them. Although both the raw materials of clean and renewable energy systems have their impacts, in both cases the footprint in the value chain can be mitigated with concrete actions.

Costa Rica’s current energy situation

In the first months of 2023 Costa Rica has imported more electricity from neighboring countries, with an increase of 137%, compared to what was imported in the last four years. On the other hand, energy exports, i.e. the sale of energy to neighboring countries fell by 97%. This is due in part to the strong droughts and the El Niño phenomenon we are facing. The result is simple: energy will be more expensive for everyone. In addition, much of this imported energy is of thermal origin (i.e. fossil fuels), so it is neither renewable nor clean.

Now the question is how much percentage of thermal energy is being used in the country to face droughts and how much percentage are we importing? For example, almost 15% of the energy that was being used on Tuesday, July 30, 2023 at a national level was of thermal origin, according to ICE data. To this must be added the imported energy, of which the percentage of thermal origin is unknown.

Energy generation with distributed resources

For both companies and households, distributed energy generation, that is, producing and consuming electric energy in the same place, is the most sustainable form of energy at an economic, social and environmental level. Regardless of whether a company or household has a clean energy system in place, the simple fact that others do means that the country does not have to invest resources in importing energy or building new power plants. Energy freedom and efficiency is beginning to be experienced for those who join distributed generation. Consequently, the country’s CO2 footprint will start to drop.

Therefore, it is wrong to think that Costa Rica is a country with 99% renewable energy. Do we have the capacity? Yes, but climate change is not allowing us to do so and therefore we must migrate to clean energies that allow us to have energy security, cheaper electricity and, above all, a lower environmental impact in our country.