Costa Rica’s renewables revolution – how did they do it?

Costa Rica is leading the way for renewable energy.

Sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, the small nation is a big player when it comes to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, helping to shape the narrative around renewable technologies and driving forward the debate on environmental responsibility.

Aerial view in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been particularly progressive in its approach to making itself as close as possible to being run entirely on energy from renewable resources. In 2015, the country achieved a remarkable run of 299 consecutive days powered solely by energy from renewable sources.

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But how did they do it? There’s an extensive legacy involved in reaching such a milestone, reaching back more than half a century.

It started in 1948, when then-president José Figueres declared that the country would disband its army and reallocate the defence budget to social programmes. The government of the day wanted a particular focus on environmental protection, as well as improving public services such as education and healthcare.

Then, in the 1950s the country took the next step on the journey by investing in hydropower. The diverse ecosystem of the country meant that they were in a good position to benefit from a number of different renewable sources, however, and so they began to invest in a number of other technologies.

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Diversifying their portfolio of resources over the following decades, Costa Rica now has an extensive network of renewable energy sources which power the country, including biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind and solar, and the nation is leading by example as it aims for carbon neutrality by 2021.

In this intriguing TED talk, Monica Araya – a Costa Rican native and the director of the Nivela think tank – hails Costa Rica’s landmark successes in renewable energy as a “fantastic achievement” and goes on to outline some of the ways in which Costa Rica can become a standard-bearer for the global community.