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Costa Rica - 100% Renewable Energy Nation

Photo Credit: ecoseed

100% Renewable Energy Goal:

100% renewable energy (no target given), with an additional goal of carbon neutrality by 2021. 95-99% renewable power already achieved, as part of this goal.


The Republic of Costa Rica


The Republic of Costa Rica, with a population of nearly 5 million people, is a Central American country rich in lush rainforests and coastal beauty. In November 2016, the nation joined a number of other developing countries most vulnerable to climate change in signing on to the Marrakesh Communiqué, which among other things, pledges signatories to lead in "greening our economies as our contribution towards achieving net carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy."

The Costa Rican government had already set a goal for the country to become carbon neutral by 2021. In 2015, the nation had achieved supplying 95-99% of electricity demand with renewable sources, approximately 80% of which was by hydropower. The previous year, renewables covered about 90% of demand. In 2014, electricity generation in Costa Rica broke down by source to:

- Hydropower (including pumped storage): 6717 GWh (IEA) / 65.75% (Natl.  Energy Plan VII)
- Geothermal: 1538 GWh (IEA) / 15.06% (Natl. Energy Plan VII)
- Oil: 1043 GWh (IEA) / 10.21% (Natl. Energy Plan VII)
- Wind: 735 GWh (IEA) / 6% (Natl. Energy Plan VII)
- Bioenergy: 181 GWh (IEA) / 2.96% (Natl. Energy Plan VII)
- Solar PV: 3 GWh (IEA) / .02% (Natl. Energy Plan VII)

While water is abundant and local, it is still considered by some an insecure resource at this high a percentage of the power mix, and climate change adds to the uncertainty. Large scale hydropower has also reportedly raised concerns regarding negative impacts on the environment and local communities in Costa Rica. Moving forward, it is not clear whether the nation aims to eventually further diversify its renewable electricity system and emphasize other renewable energy technologies, such as solar, small wind turbines, and biogas from organic waste. The most recent National Energy Plan, updated in 2015, indicates that through 2025, the nation expects to expand capacity but keep similar proportions of supply sources as in 2014. That said, the plan also acknowledges that while reducing environmental impacts of hydropower has been a focus of regulatory reform, improvements ought to be made, specifically evaluation criteria and methods must better consider the cumulative impacts and compensation flows, and more care may need to be taken to ensure those conducting environmental reviews have arms length relationships with project developers.

The primary principle guiding the latest National Energy Plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, Costa Rica at just over a ton of carbon emissions per capita, is not one of the world's higher greenhouse gas emitters. Nonetheless, the country is firm in its commitment.

The national energy plan also acknowledges that while greenhouse gas reduction is of highest importance, it must be balanced with other national values, such as economic well being of citizens and reliable energy supply.

The plan calls for a  range of actions to be taken to improve the energy system, not only technically, but in terms of how policies are made and carried out. Ideas advocated for in the plan include, among others, increasing distributed renewable power that allows for citizen ownership and economic benefit, prioritizing efficiency, advancing scientific research and development, resolving governance issues, and increasing transparency and citizen involvement in decision making and implementation of the energy plan.

The plan acknowledges that the area of greatest impact to address in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the energy sector is tackling the transportation sector, which accounts for 54% of nationwide emissions and 66% of nationwide energy consumption. Here the report concludes the biggest challenge is passenger vehicles, which are responsible for the highest share of emissions. Adding to the complexity of the challenge is the fact that for many lower income citizens, their only affordable option for transportation has been old, dirty vehicles. The plan states that it is important to balance the need to lower emissions with the need to support the economic well being of the most vulnerable citizens.

Costa Rica is planning to pursue a variety of actions to make transportation sustainable, including improving public transportation, adopting cleaner vehicles, and turning to clean fuels.

The nation has already notably been embracing electric and hybrid transportation for more than a decade,  recognizing the many benefits of these technologies, including their lower carbon footprint, easier maintenance, quiet rides, clean air, and independence from foreign fuel imports. In 2004, the gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius was introduced to Costa Rica, followed by the first all electric car in 2009 - the Indian Reva.  In 2011, Costa Rica became the third location after Japan and Europe to sell the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The government has pledged to support the electric vehicle movement with incentives, needed to overcome market barriers during these transitional years, including the higher price tag of electric vehicles and limited numbers of charging stations. 


Marrakesh Communiqué

Costa Rica National Energy Plan VII 2015-2030 (in Spanish)

IEA Report on Costa Rica



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