Clean Energy in Costa Rica

Grady Williams
December 20, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Nearly 100% of the energy Costa Rica generates is renewable. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the effects of climate change have become more profound and the need for action has become more universally acknowledged, many countries have committed to pledges concerning their clean energy production. This is especially true in Latin America. Mexico, for example, has committed to decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions by 22% of what they would reach by 2030 and to reaching 0% deforestation by 2030. Ecuador has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emission from energy generation - which at the moment accounts for 50% of the country's total emissions - by 20.4%-25% of what they otherwise would be come 2025. [1] Thus far however, Costa Rica has had the most comprehensive success in their transition to clean energy. (Fig. 1)

How They Have Done It

The main reason for Costa Rica's success is the accessibility of their natural energy resources, especially hydropower. (Fig. 2) They relied completely on renewable energy for the first quarter of 2015. Hydropower accounts for around 80 percent of energy generation in the country. The rest of Costa Rica's energy demands have been supplemented with geothermal, wind, and solar energy. Recently, geothermal has provided around 15 percent of Costa Rica's remaining energy needs. A significant factor in Costa Rica's success is the small size of the country; it has a total area of around 51,000 square kilometers, about half the size of Kentucky. [1,2]


The United States' population is roughly 65 times greater than Costa Rica's. In 2015 the US generated around 373 times more electricity.


Fig. 2: A small Costa Rican dam. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Reventazón is an enormous hydroelectric project located in the Limón Province of Costa Rica. It underwent over 6 years of construction and now powers around 525,000 homes and has a generating capacity of 305.5 megawatts. [3]


With the completion of the Reventazón project, Costa Rica is poised to rely completely on renewable energy in the coming years. The country was able to achieve such success before most of the rest of the world due to its diminutive size, low population, and abundance of natural resources. Many are skeptical as to whether a massive overhaul of energy production is possible in a country like the United States, with a massive population and daily energy demand. [4] An overhaul is probably not possible, especially considering the US lacks the natural resources of a country like Costa Rica. Still, Costa Rica is proof that a consistent focus on clean energy can have a positive, measurable impact on a country's dependence on fossil fuels. If climate change is to be combated, many other countries must follow Costa Rica's example.

© Grady Williams. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] L. Viscidi and R.a O'Connor, "How Can Latin America Move to Low-Carbon Energy?" New York Times, 24 Nov 15.

[2] L. Wade, ""Water, Fire, and Costa Rica's Carbon-Zero Year So Far," Wired Magazine, 27 Mar 15.

[3] J. Hartmann et al., "The Next Frontier of Hydropower Sustainability: Planning at the System Scale," Inter-American Development Bank, 18 Nov 13.

[4] L. Fendt, "The Truth behind Costa Rica's Renewable Energy." The Guardian, 30 Mar15.