While Costa Rica currently generates up to 90% of its electricity from renewable sources – principally hydroelectric power from large dams – it is still a long way from reaching the its national goal of carbon neutrality by 2021 — the 200th anniversary of Costa Rican independence. Carbon neutrality means that the country absorbs – mainly through forests – as much carbon dioxide as it emits.
The biggest challenge is in the realm of transportation, where the country’s growing fleet of vehicles runs almost exclusively on fossil fuels. However, Costa Rica is also beginning to lose ground in the area of carbon-free electricity generation. In recent years, as demand has steadily grown, so has the share of electricity produced by plants that burn petroleum-based fuels. In both transportation and the generation of electricity, the country must make changes if it is to have any chance of reaching the goal of carbon neutrality.
Fortunately, Costa Rica enjoys excellent conditions to step up the production of renewable energy, including abundant wind, solar, hydro and geothermal resources. And while the government and the public utility companies seek to expand the production of electricity from these sources through investment in large plants, an extremely promising source of clean renewable energy for the country is small-scale production of energy by the country’s energy consumers (such as that produced by roof-top solar panels, for example) distributed through the existing electricity grid. Recent changes in the policies of ICE and other public utility companies and cooperatives can make this a reality.
The most significant of these changes is allowing the installation of two-way electric meters that allow the consumer who produces electricity to sell excess energy back to the distribution grid. Presently, consumers can only deduct the value of the energy produced from the electric bill, but experts predict that additional reforms may soon allow individuals to sell all of the energy they produce, regardless of their level of consumption. For example, the owner of a second home in Costa Rica could then produce and sell electricity to the distribution grid year-round, regardless of the amount of electricity they use. Consumer-producers can include not only homeowners, but also commercial buildings such as shopping centers, hotels and office complexes, and increasingly, as the cost of producing electricity from these sources decreases, increasing their economic viability, small-scale renewable electricity plants.
Besides solar panels, wind and water turbines are other options for producing energy on a small-scale, but are much more dependent on local conditions (i.e. the presence of wind and water). For homeowners, producing hot water through passive solar water heaters (which don’t generate electricity, but use the sun’s rays to heat water), are an excellent option.
There are several companies in Costa Rica that can assist property owners interested in generating renewable energy in assessing their energy needs and potential for generating electricity, and based, on this, recommend the right systems for their client’s site and budget. The links to the web pages of these companies are listed below.