Costa Rica’s new President, Carlos Alvarado, has used his inauguration speech to reiterate his commitment to eliminating the use of all fossil fuels in the Central American nation. Speaking to a crowd of 2,000 people at Plaza de la Democracy on May 8th, Alvarado described the pledge as a “titanic and beautiful task”.
The idea of making an entire nation fossil-fuel free may sound like a pipe dream, particularly when you consider that Alvarado hopes to accomplish this by 2021. But in 2017, Costa Rica ran solely on renewable energy sources for 300 days in a row, getting 99.62% of its electricity needs from renewable energy for the entire year.
Given the climate, you might be inclined to assume that a large portion of this renewable energy comes from solar power. In reality, solar power was one of the least-used sources, along with biofuel, which combined account for less than 1% of the nation’s energy demands. The vast majority is actually generated through hydropower, which provides almost 80% of the country’s electricity, with wind and geothermal energy providing about 10% each.
The biggest challenge Costa Ricans face in achieving their goal of a fossil-fuel free nation is the transport sector, which accounts for roughly half of the country’s total emissions. An inadequate public transport system has caused the demand for private vehicles to jump 25% year-on-year, with 98% of the cars running on fossil fuels. In what was likely an acknowledgement of this challenge, Alvarado arrived to his inauguration in a hydrogen-fueled bus.
Costa Rica may only account for 0.03% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but achieving this goal could have a major impact by proving the potential of renewable energy to richer, more powerful, and more populous nations. It could also mark the birth of a new economy for the typically-agricultural society, as they become world leaders in technology that will inevitably be used by almost every country in the world.