Wind Energy in Costa Rica: Draft 2

This topic submitted by Erika Merrell ( Erma72@aol.com) at 12:34 PM on 5/14/04.

The back of our truck was home on San Salvador in the Bahamas

Tropical Field Courses -Western Program-Miami University



Scientists have recently discovered many environmental problems associated with traditional methods of generating electricity. I was interested in learning what the government and businesses are doing to promote renewable energy in Costa Rica. I also wanted to learn more about how wind power is generated. Here is an outline of my talk:

I. History of Wind Energy
II. How Wind Generates Energy
III. Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy and Other Types of Energy
IV. Where Costa Rica’s Energy Comes From
V. Potential For Wind Energy in Costa Rica
VI. Past and Current Movements to Increase Use of Wind Power in Costa Rica
A. Legislation
B. Companies Involved
C. Wind Farms Created
VII. Future of Wind Power in Costa Rica


Wind Energy in Costa Rica

Wind has been used for centuries as a source of power. As early as 900 AD, Persians started using windmills to grind grain and pump water. After this, the benefits of wind energy spread around the world, and it grew more and more widespread. As the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s introduced fossil fuels as new forms of energy, though, the use of wind energy declined drastically. Only within the past 30 years or so, as society has realized the environmental implications of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, has a movement started to reintroduce wind as a source of energy. (http://www.nmhschool.org/costarica/research_ben.htm)

Many wind turbines, usually with three blades each, comprise a wind-driven power station. A wiring network combines the energy from all the turbines in a wind park. The energy then travels through a substation, which monitors the amount of water distributed, to a utility grid. Consumers receive their energy through this utility grid. (American Institute of Physics, 314) The conversion from kinetic wind power to electrical output boasts efficiency rates of up to 45%. In practice, though, power stations usually are only 20 to 30% efficient on a yearlong scale, since they are sometimes shut down in high winds and since substations occasionally limit power. (Wrixon, 20) Efficiencies of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants are comparable to this with average rates slightly above 30%; however, these forms of power can harm the environment. (http://www.healthgoods.com/Education/Energy_Information/General_Energy_Information/fossil_fuel%20coal.htm)

The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) emits gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, and sulfur dioxide into the air. Increases in carbon dioxide levels contribute to global warming, while high carbon monoxide levels create ground-level ozone and cause health problems. Nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide create acid rain. Nuclear power plants, on the other hand, create radioactive waste. If not contained properly, this waste can trigger heart failure and cancer in humans. The generation of wind energy, meanwhile, does not release any harmful gases into the air or create radioactive waste. Furthermore, wind farms take about a year to construct, a shorter amount of time than it takes to build fossil fuel and nuclear power stations. (United Nations Environment Programme, 314) They also cost less to build than nuclear plants and about the same as fossil fuel plants, with the exception of advanced gas turbines. (United Nations Environment Programme, 8) In addition, fossil fuels and nuclear fuel will eventually vanish from the earth, but wind will not.

A few negative effects of wind power do exist, though. First of all, although wind plants cost less than nuclear plants, they still cost a large sum of money. Wind farms cost about $100 to $150 million to construct depending on the number of turbines operating. (Wrixon, 28) Wind farms also need land, although not a disproportionate amount. For example, wind farms in three plains states could provide enough energy for the entire United States. Also, some people find the windmills aesthetically unpleasing, (Wrixon, 29) and wind farms also can interfere with television reception and microwave frequencies. This problem can easily be avoided by correct placement of transmission links. (Wrixon, 30) While other sources of energy endanger all of life, wind farms only harm one species. When windmills begin producing energy, the blades sometimes hit birds. Studies have shown that in time birds learn to avoid the windmills. Another problem many may cite as a major disadvantage of wind energy is that wind cannot be controlled. In reality, when turbines are placed within high wind areas, few problems occur. Moreover, other types of energy can supplement wind energy if necessary. (American Institute of Physics, 316) Wind power can generate heat, power vehicles, provide light, pump water, and provide various other forms of electricity. (Altomonte, 23-24) Many countries have recently taken advantage of wind energy because of its numerous benefits.

Costa Rica now uses 99.2% renewable and sustainable energy. While the country receives less than 0.5% of its energy from wind energy, that amount is quickly increasing, as wind is the world’s fastest growing energy resource. (http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/SciTech/DyeHard/windfarms_dyehard_031231-2.html) Costa Rica generates its electricity with 49.4% hydroenergy, 35.7% geothermal, 7.9% cane products, 3.2% sustainable residential timber, 2.2% sustainable biomass, 0.5% wind and solar, 0.3% sustainable vegetal carb, and 0.1% sustainable industrial timber. The non-sustainable and renewable portion of the country’s energy comes from non-sustainable biomass (0.6%) and from oil (0.2%). (Altomonte, 55)

Wind energy has a strong potential for growth in Costa Rica because of the high winds in the area. In many places in the country, winds average speeds between 15 and 20 miles per hour. (http://www.weather.com) Only about 9 mph winds are necessary for favorable energy efficiency rates, whereas wind speeds of much higher than 20 mph are considered too high. (Gipe, 27) Many may begin to see wind as a better alternative to solar and hydroenergy in Costa Rica, since solar energy remains virtually unaffordable there and because the dry season affects the supply of hydroenergy.

Many actions have taken place in Costa Rica in recent years to promote renewable, sustainable energy use, and more specifically, wind energy use. In the 1980s, Costa Ricans began to grow more aware and concerned about climate change. During this time, the country’s government started to attend more meetings regarding this issue. (http://unfccc.int/program/sd/technology/techdoc/crcp.pdf) In the 1990s, Regulations to Control Gas Emissions and Particles from Automotive Vehicles passed, limiting harmful emissions and forcing all vehicles to go through inspections. Costa Rica also formed the National Committee for Energy Conservation, a division of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, around this time. In 1994, the committee passed Law 7447, which exempts equipment used for renewable energy from import duties. (http://tcdc.undp.org/experiences/vol8/Costa%20Rica.pdf) Former Costa Rican president, Jose Maria Figueres, also made a point to promote renewable energy. During his term, from 1994 to 1998, he developed a plan for the country to use 98% renewable energy by 2000. The plan has worked well, since the country now uses 99.2% renewable energy resources.

This legislation has led to the increased use of wind energy. Costa Rica created its first wind farm in 1992 in Tejona. (http://www.nmhschool.org/costarica/research_ben.htm) Since then, a few others have materialized. One of the largest in Latin America, the Tierras Morenas Wind Farm built in 1999, lies in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border. The winds at this farm typically average around 20 mph. The farm sells its electricity to the national electric company, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, under a 15 year energy purchase agreement. The farm’s 32 Micon brand wind turbine generators produce 70,000 MWh of electricity a year. If fossil fuels had been used to produce this amount of energy, 57,000 tons of carbon dioxide would have been released into the air. (http://www.pi.energy.gov/pdf/library/EWSL/EWSLcostarica.pdf) The World Bank has funded three wind projects as part of its Prototype Carbon Fund. Two of these are in Costa Rica, in Chorotega and Vera Blanca. (http://www.wpm.co.nz/windicat.htm#sthctram) The New World Power Corporation has also helped make new farms in Costa Rica (http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/), while the International Finance Corporation has provided its aid by approving wind projects there. Global Energy Concepts has helped as well and has taught 20 countries, including Costa Rica, how to use wind power effectively. (http://www.globalenergyconcepts.com/training.htm)

The future of wind energy looks bright in Costa Rica. The high winds in many areas of Costa Rica make it an appropriate place to install more wind farms, while declining costs make these farms more possible each year. Furthermore, as society grows more aware of the environmental implications of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, wind energy can only become more prevalent.


Bibliography:

Altomonte, H; Coviello, M; and Lutz, W. Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Latin America and the Caribbean: Constraints and Prospects. Santiago, Chile: United Nations, 2003.

American Institute of Physics. The Energy Sourcebook. United States of America: American Institute of Physics, 1991.

Gipe, Paul. Wind Energy Comes of Age. United States of America: John Wiley and Sons, Incorporated, 1995.

United Nations Environment Programme. Natural Selection. United Nations, 2000.

Wrixon, G; Rooney, A; and Palz, W. Renewable Energy-2000. Berlin, Germany:
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2000.

http://tcdc.undp.org/experiences/vol8/Costa%20Rica.pdf

http://unfccc.int/program/sd/technology/techdoc/crcp.pdf

http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/SciTech/DyeHard/windfarms_dyehard_031231-2.html

http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/

http://www.globalenergyconcepts.com/training.htm

http://www.healthgoods.com/Education/Energy_Information/General_Energy_Information/fossil_fuel%20coal.htm

http://www.nmhschool.org/costarica/research_ben.htm

http://www.pi.energy.gov/pdf/library/EWSL/EWSLcostarica.pdf

http://www.weather.com

http://www.wpm.co.nz/windicat.htm#sthctram


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