Environmental Wins: How Costa Rica and Other Nations Utilize Renewable Energy
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Environmental Wins: How Costa Rica and Other Nations Utilize Renewable Energy

Some of the countries that primarily rely on renewable energy to supply their electricity may be surprising. They include nations spanning from Iceland to Namibia to Albania. In the Americas, one of the nations that is best known for its renewable energy use is Costa Rica.

95 to 98 percent of the electricity in Costa Rica is generated by renewable sources. More than half of this energy comes from hydropower. Other countries that Rustic Pathways students visit that also have made great progress on the energy front include Ecuador, Nepal, and Morocco.

These countries are generally doing better than the United States where only about 20-percent of its electricity is produced by renewable sources. Most of that comes from hydropower and wind power, though solar energy is also increasing. It’s a step in the right direction – the kind of steps that Costa Rica has been taking for many years.

How Do They Generate Energy in Costa Rica

There are a number of factors that have made the usage of renewable energy easier in Costa Rica. The country has a small population of five million people. It has plenty of waterways and a high amount of annual rainfall. It has volcanoes that can be used for geothermal energy. It also does not have major industries with high energy needs.

Most importantly it has a government that is eager to make the country environmentally friendly. When it ended its military in the 1940s, it was decided that the money would be redirected to healthcare, education, and environmental protection. That led to a number of energy projects.

Hydroelectric plants were built to provide the majority of the electricity in the country. One of the key dams is in the region where Pura Vida Service students visit. The Lake Arenal Dam was built in 1979 and provides about 12% of the power for the country.

According to the Tico Times, the Costa Rican government says that its renewable sources provide power to more than 1.5 million homes and 225,000 businesses overall. That has saved the country nearly $500 million over the past 20 years.

In addition to hydroelectric and geothermal power, the country also utilizes other sources to a smaller degree, such as wind, solar and biomass. Wind power is used in some regions during the dry season. Costa Rica was the first country in Latin America to harness wind power, and there are now nine large wind farms in Costa Rica, including one at Lake Arenal.

Tejona wind farm, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica, Photo: Sbeebe, Creative Commons License

In addition to these projects, the government also has other goals to make more environmental improvements. The nation still relies on fossil fuels for transportation, some heating, and daily activities like cooking. In 2019 President Carlos Alvarado introduced a Decarbonization Plan in hopes of making the country carbon neutral.

The country has pulled in various stakeholders to work towards the goal, including officials in government, business and academia. It’s hoped these efforts will go hand-in-hand with the country’s efforts to protect its biodiversity. The small nation contains 6% of the world’s total biodiversity, so controlling air and water quality is crucial for the local environment.

Other nations with similar environmental concerns are moving in the right direction like Costa Rica.

Efforts Underway in Other Travel Nations

Ecuador, Morocco and Nepal have also launched major energy initiatives aimed at using more renewable energy sources. In Ecuador major efforts to increase hydropower were launched in 2013. At the end of 2021, the nation upped its efforts, announcing a US$875 million project to develop more renewable energy plants in different geographical regions of the country.

Overall, Ecuador gets about 60% of its electrical power from renewable sources. Like Costa Rica, it struggles with the carbon impact of fossil fuels from transportation and other energy usage, so that is an area it also needs to tackle. Its environment though does not have one major benefit that nations like Morocco have.

In that African nation, one of its best resources for electricity is utilized – the sun. Its Noor Power Plant in the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest concentrated solar power farm. It’s huge – the size of 3,500 football fields. The farm produces enough electricity to power a mid-sized city.

Photo: Richard Allaway, Creative Commons License

The solar panels at the plant melt salt that stores energy that can be used at night. The Moroccan government secured $3 billion from the World Bank for the project.

In Nepal, it’s a different story. Unlike other nations, biomass is an important energy source in Nepal. It uses wood, agricultural residues and dung to produce energy. The problem with this is the creation of air pollution.

In areas on the grid in Nepal most electricity is produced by hydropower, but that isn’t necessarily possible in remote regions. Still Nepal produces enough hydroelectric power to export some of it to India, increasing its benefit across borders.

Overall in Nepal the energy consumption per capita is pretty low – much less than the average in Asia and worldwide. Therefore, its impact would be nowhere near what is seen in the United States.

Still, it’s hoped these types of projects in smaller nations will inspire larger countries to work more on similar endeavors. In the meantime, students traveling to these nations can keep their eyes open for dams, wind farms, and other renewable power sources to see how it’s done.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.