Costa Rica hits 75 days powered entirely by renewable energy

Heavy rainfall has allowed the Central American country of Costa Rica to be powered almost entirely by its hydroelectric plants.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Pirris Hydroelectric Power Station, Costa Rica. Image by Tarrazu, public domain

This year has been a pretty special one for Costa Rica -- for the first quarter, the country's grid has required absolutely no fossil fuels to run, the state-run power supplier the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) has announced. It relied almost entirely on four hydropower plants, the reservoirs of which were filled by fortunate heavy rainfall. The remaining power needs were met by wind, solar and geothermal plants.

The country has an excellent track record with renewable energy. As of last year, it generated as much as 80 percent of its electricity from its hydropower plants and, as of 2010, 13 percent of the country's power needs came from geothermal plants.

The rainfall is important to note, however. Last year, Costa Rica experienced drought conditions, and needed to rely on diesel fuel for backup. ICE is already working towards a solution for this, with a $958 million geothermal plant approved and underway as of last year, tapping into the country's rich volcano resources as a power source.

In terms of electricity coverage, Costa Rica supplied power to 99.4 percent of all households, second in the Americas only to Uruguay; and in terms of energy performance architecture, second only behind Colombia, according to the World Economic Forum.

Costa Rica, although small at just 4.87 million people, joins a growing number of countries relying on renewable energy. Iceland's electricity consumption is almost 100 percent covered by renewable energy. Paraguay and Brazil share the Itaipú hydroelectric dam, which serves almost 100 percent of Paraguay's needs and around 85 percent of Brazil's. Lesotho, Norway and Albania also rely on renewable energy, with a longer list of countries well on the way of getting there.

The Costa Rican geothermal project will consist of three plants, the first of which will generate 55 MW, and the two others that will generate 50 MW apiece. This energy is expected to generate electricity at a cost of around five cents per kilowatt hour, and will help Costa Rica achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2021.