Costa Rica has been powered solely by renewable energy for 121 days and is on pace to hit an entire year without the use of fossil fuels, achieving a milestone that, if replicated globally, would significantly curb the threat of climate change.
Last year, Costa Rica went 285 days without using fossil fuels and was 99 percent powered by renewable energy sources overall. In five years, the country plans to be carbon neutral.
While Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability should inspire countries around the world, its model is hard to closely emulate. Several characteristics make Costa Rica an anomaly.
First, the country has a unique propensity to harvest sustainable energy. Its strong river system generates substantial hydroelectric power, which has become the primary source of energy. In fact, the coastal nation is actually over-reliant on hydropower and is trying to adjust its usage because of the environmental costs.
Costa Rica also gets significant sunshine. Germany, which was able to get 50% of its daily electrical energy from solar power on a sunny day last year, gets just half the sunshine that Costa Rica does.
Because it is a coastal nation, the country is able to harvest a lot of energy from ocean wind farms. This kind of wind power was recently shown to be extremely efficient because of the strong, consistent winds found throughout the world’s oceans.
In the years ahead, Costa Rica plans to generate more energy from solar and wind, but is currently focused on expanding geothermal energy projects.
The nation's small, relatively poor population means that both its aggregate and per capita (per person) energy needs are small.
Finally, Costa Rica’s economy is hugely dependent on tourism. To remain a viable tourist destination, the country’s environment has to stay pristine and would be jeopardized by fossil fuels. Broadcasting its status as a leader in renewable energy is clearly a big tourism draw as well.
Costa Rica is not alone in its efforts, other countries are making strides toward fully renewable societies. The Paris Climate Agreements of last year committed 195 countries to various environmental targets to slow climate change.
It was the first time in history that so many countries cooperated on the environment and could signal a turning point.
For now, Iceland is the only other country fully independent from fossil fuels. Sweden has surpassed the 50 percent renewable energy mark and the majority of Europe aims to hit 30 percent by 2020. The US hopes to have 50 percent clean energy by 2025 and China is rapidly building renewable energy sources, even as it remains the leading consumer of fossil fuels.
Every country has to find the right mix of renewables. Some countries will lean on solar, others may lean on hydroelectric. But the uniform goal should be no more fossil fuels.
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