At the end of 2016, Costa Rica reached a total installed hydropower capacity of 2.12 GW. The country dominated the headlines for the second consecutive year, achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity production for a total of 271 days.
This high percentage of steady renewable energy penetration throughout the country was facilitated by the critical role of baseload energy from hydropower generation. Representing roughly 75 per cent of the total electricity profile, hydropower is the largest source of energy in the country and can be utilised to support the increased penetration of more variable renewable energy sources both within the country and region.
The country has set a target to reach 100 per cent renewables power share by 2030, which will not be possible without hydro.
Costa Rica has a notable geographic advantage in that its concentration per capita of rivers, dams and volcanoes allow for high levels of renewable energy production. This abundance of natural resources and favourable rainfall levels are beneficial for great amounts of hydropower generation.
2016 saw new stations come online, such as Bijagua (17 MW) in Upala, Alajuela province. The Reventazón facility (305.5 MW) also came online in 2016. This USD 1.4 billion project is the largest hydropower project in Central America after the Panama Canal, and one of the largest public infrastructure projects in the region in the modern era. Furthermore, due to its environmental features, such as migration corridors for jaguars and many other species, the project is a model of good practice for other future hydroelectric power plants.
The proposed El Diquís hydroelectric project (631 MW), which has the potential to be the biggest hydropower facility in Central America, is currently suffering significant delays under the domestic supreme court and UN legal framework.
With regards to regional integration of affordable, reliable electricity, the Central American Electrical Interconnection System (SIEPAC) is an ongoing initiative involving Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. When completed, the SIEPAC line will consist of 15 substations and 28 access bays across 1,800 km. As Costa Rica has the largest installed capacity and is the largest producer in the region, the planned transmission segment length in Costa Rica dominates at 489 km. With such a substantial percentage of Costa Rican electricity generated from hydropower, the energy source will have a significantly positive and extensive impact on the entire region. Energy systems in central America will have the opportunity to support increasing levels of intermittent renewable energy sources due to the ancillary and grid balancing services provided by hydropower.
As well as the abundance of natural resources enabling increased production of renewable energy, Costa Rica also holds strong commitment to environmentalism, and is one of the world’s leaders in nature conservation. The extent of nature conservation in Costa Rica has spurred policymakers to pledge to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2021. The country also declared certain rivers to be “pristine” and have enacted a law to keep them as such. Costa Rica sets a prime example of how to successfully harness vast amounts of hydropower to provide electricity for the entire country and potentially the extended region in the future, while equally protecting a diverse and rich natural environment.
Overall, the level of access to electricity in Costa Rica is the highest in Central America and currently stands at 99.5 per cent. Meanwhile, the consumption of fossil fuels has increased, caused by a significant growth in the number of motor vehicles. Costa Rica’s largest challenge will be to decrease emissions in this sector in order to achieve the national carbon neutrality goal. The country currently plans to increase the use of electric and hybrid vehicles, which will be powered by renewable energy.
This country profile is featured in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in May 2017.