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Costa Rica Has Run on 100% Renewable Electricity for 299 Days (under30experiences.com)
608 points by Knajjars 35 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 290 comments

Is there an easy answer as to why Costa Rica is doing so well? They seem to be a bit of an exception in Central/South America.

EDIT: From Wikipedia "It is known for its long-standing and stable democracy, and for its highly educated workforce, most of whom speak English. The country spends roughly 6.9% of its budget (2016) on education, compared to a global average of 4.4%. Its economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, corporate services for foreign companies, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism. Many foreign manufacturing and services companies operate in Costa Rica's Free Trade Zones (FTZ) where they benefit from investment and tax incentives."

The book "Why Nations Fail" and the followup by the same authors "The Narrow Corridor" paints a fairly convincing picture that the success or failure of many modern Latin American countries is directly correlated with the extent to which the Spanish colonialists were able to enslave/subjugate the indigenous population, and the types of societies and institutions that followed that initial seed. For example, in modern day Bolivia you can overlay a Spanish colonial map detailing how much forced labor must be performed in each region with a modern poverty map and there is still a high degree of correlation.

"The Narrow Corridor" has an entire chapter devoted to examining the differences between Costa Rica and its neighbor Guatemala.

Guatemala had a large indigenous population that was forced to work on Encomiendas -- essentially Spanish plantations worked by indigenous slaves. This resulted in large swaths of land to be controlled by a few elite. This imbalance eventually results in a highly extractive and exploitative political and economic system. The same 8 families that were major Spanish colonial landowners still essentially run the country (though apparently their power is finally waning). The Castillo family has been the most powerful for literally half a millennium.

Contrast this with Costa Rica which was far more sparsely populated. This resulted in small landholders working their own plots of land, and, in the short term, relative poverty compared to other Spanish conquered lands. But being overlooked by the Spanish, and having a wide spread of land ownership across the populace resulted in a homegrown movement of rural democracy.

Links for further reading:



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_El_Salvador#The_oli... (El Salvador, but a similar situation)

I haven't read those books, but a priori it sounds like cherry picking.

Mexico for example had a revolution which gave the land to the people and is a country that, over a century later, is still struggling with corruption, ignorance, superstition, etc.

I've been living in Mexico for 12 years and IMO it all comes down to poor education like the grandparent comment by belval suggested.

As an example, take the current Mexican government who was largely put in power by the lower classes. Instead of investing into education and social programs, is putting all its eggs into the oil basket.


BTW I'm not arguing that more expenditure in education results in better education.

Revolutions are not as effective as they claim at overturning the basic structure of society - not without some very serious application of coercion at a grassroots level.

For the Mexican case specifically, the revolution did not replace the landowning political elite, but installed a different subset of them. A succession of presidents from the landowning class slow-walked land reform (we're talking single-digit percentages of land redistributed per decade), mostly motivated by the fear of Zapatista rebels rather than commitment to equality.

Cárdenas was probably the first seriously pro-reform president (mid- and late-30s), but the old landowners remained wealthy and preserved a good chunk of their holdings. (For political reasons, he focused on foreign landholders.) This meant that the next landowner-friendly president a few years later created a land-leasing system that de facto returned control of large collective farms to the landowning class.

See also how the (non-revolutionary) emancipation of serfs in the Russian Empire didn't change much, since serfs had to take out loans to compensate their former masters. Social hierarchies and power balances remained, despite a change in form.

In the United States continuous revolution is referred to as 'property tax'.

The historical pattern is that advocates for the rich will try to undermine assessments to fall more heavily on buildings in poor neighborhoods and replace property tax revenues with sales tax, and that advocates for the poor will try to reform assessments to fall more heavily on land in rich neighborhoods and decrease sales tax.

'Land reform' in the sense of trying to equally divide low value rural land by area without appointing assessors to appraise taxable value of urban property is viewed as a bizarre and impractical European idea.

Rural land reform is less of a pressing issue when agriculture ceases to be the main economic activity - even in Europe, it was mostly either 1) very very early, or 2) in economically backwards regions.

Anything I can read to learn more about this?

BTW there are still plenty of ejidos all over Mexico which are not owned by the political elite.

Emmm. Most of this is from my college courses, with Wikipedia for recalling names and dates. From a quick Googling, this seems like a good overview: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/147642277.pdf

If you're interested in a really deep dive into related Eastern European examples (not Russian) of the limits and successes of land reform, I'd suggest this textbook: https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=372

And yup! The reversion of Cárdenas's reforms was not complete; reformers in positions of power do make some difference, even if it's less than you'd guess based on short-term results. Though note that many ejidos owned by the intended local peasant's collectives are de facto controlled by a large landowner or business. (The political elite of the early-/mid-20th century was a subset of the landowning elite, not its entirety.)

The book has sections about Mexico as well. The basic gist is that the fundamental institutions that result in the inequality have persisted, even if the government has been overturned several times. The overarching theme of the book is about what types of incentives result from various types of institutions, and how positive and negative feedback loops can form therein.

Ultimately, Mexico has suffered significantly from the government granting monopoly rights to particular businesses (friends of the government) and by not respecting property rights. Both of these trends have spanned governments and go all the way back to the Spanish colonialists.

There is little incentive in Mexico to innovate and invest, because if you are too successful, you will likely run afoul of some wealthy friend of a politician who will use his power to ruin you. From the point of view of the political elite, this makes sense, because they are all rich and in charge. But this behavior impoverishes society on average.

Concrete examples in the book include the banking industry, which was effectively monopolized by 2 banks with government support in the 19th century. Contrasted with hundreds of banks with fierce competition in the US in the same time period. This resulted in high interest rates in Mexico (and thus little incentive to invest) and low interest rates in the US (which was rapidly industrializing).

A more modern example is comparing Bill Gates vs. Carlos Slim, who were vying for the title of the world's richest person when the book was written. Bill Gates made his fortune by founding an incredibly successful company. When it was engaging in monopolistic behavior, it was successfully prosecuted by the government. Contrast this with Carlos Slim who made his fortune largely by being granted favorable monopolistic deals by the Mexican government.

> by not respecting property rights

Ref. the movie Viva Zapata! Which has Marlon Brando playing a Mexican revolutionary hero facing this kind of disillusioning outcome over & over. (Mostly bringing this up because I went to the trouble to watch it recently and needed a conversation to work it into)

I would like to read more about this. Which of the two books has this chapter on Mexico?

Here is a pdf of Why Nations Fail. Ctrl+f for "A tale of two constitutions" and read until you see the next chapter title "Theories that don't work".


Systems of exploitation tend to be durable and adaptable over time, producing similar outcomes even if the overall shape appears to change drastically.

For example, the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment freed the slaves, but included an exception on forced labor for those convicted of a crime. Surprise surprise, former Confederate states make up crimes (like loitering) that are only enforced on Black people, and the cheap, no-choice labor force is back at work, even if under a structure that only barely resembles prewar chattel slavery.

> Systems of exploitation tend to be durable and adaptable over time, producing similar outcomes even if the overall shape appears to change drastically.

Yes, because the fundamental problem is changing the culture, not the "shape".

In Mexico (the example I know first hand) corruption is definitely a cultural problem. It happens at all levels because it is culturally acceptable to bend/ignore the rules for personal gain.

There's even a saying in Mexico which is "el que no transa no avanza". It translates to something like "the one who doesn't cheat, doesn't move forward in life".

A film you may find interesting if you haven’t seen it is the Brazilian crime thriller “Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro”, which not wishing to spoil anything, was a fascinating exploration of how systems of corruption can remain even as everyone involved gets moved out; the vacuum is filled as quickly as it’s made.


That is the sequel to Tropa de Elite (2007), by the same director, Jose Padilha. I strongly recommend watching Tropa de Elite first.


The same director's documentary Bus 174 (2002) is even much more intense and unforgettable.


He also created the amazing series The Mechanism (2018-), based on the Operation Car Wash investigations, during the last 10 years, into corruption in Brazil.



Thanks for the recomendation!

Mexico is the 9th largest economy by GDP and dwarfs all other countries in the regions. I think you proved is point, rather than negated it. Also, as a counter point, Mexico's proximity to the US had alot to do with the corruption and current regime in mexico.

Drugs across the american border is very lucrative giving power and money to alot of bad people in Mexico. Watch Narcos Mexico to get a wiff of the proximity to the US creating cartels.

Nothing substantial to add, but I'm reading this book now and I'm finding it pretty interesting. The idea that the way colonial societies were organized and their institutional legacies affect modern nations makes a lot of sense. Cortes vs John Smith. Encomiendas vs settler colonies. And while early American society was extremely unequal, there was a lot more participation in the political process by more people than in most Spanish colonies.

`you can overlay a Spanish colonial map detailing how much forced labor must be performed in each region with a modern poverty map and there is still a high degree of correlation.`

Could this be partially attributed the geography, natural resources available in the region. AKA both the Spanish Empire and contemporary society saw the same poverty inducing industries available in those regions?

I decided to look up the actual blurb I was referencing to see what I had misremembered. Here is the text from the book (some snippets shortened with [..]). Paragraph 5 directly answers your question by comparing two provinces that are geographically and culturally similar, but happened to fall on different sides of a colonial forced labor zone.


At this point the Spanish focused on the people of the Inca Empire. [..] Citizens were divided into encomiendas, with one going to each of the conquistadors [..]. The encomienda was the main institution used for the control and organization of labor in the early colonial period, but it soon faced a vigorous contender.

In 1545 a local named Diego Gualpa was searching for an indigenous shrine high in the Andes in what is today Bolivia. He was thrown to the ground by a sudden gust of wind and in front of him appeared a cache of silver ore. This was part of a vast mountain of silver, which the Spanish baptized El Cerro Rico, “The Rich Hill.” Around it grew the city of Potosí, which at its height in 1650 had a population of 160,000 people, larger than Lisbon or Venice in this period.

To exploit the silver, the Spanish needed miners [..]. They sent a new viceroy [..] Francisco de Toledo, whose main mission was to solve the labor problem. [..] To find the labor he needed, de Toledo first moved almost the entire indigenous population, concentrating them in new towns called reducciones — literally “reductions” — which would facilitate the exploitation of labor by the Spanish Crown. Then he revived and adapted an Inca labor institution known as the mita, which, in the Incas’ language, Quechua, means “a turn.”

Under their mita system, the Incas had used forced labor to run plantations designed to provide food for temples, the aristocracy, and the army. [..] In de Toledo’s hands the mita, especially the Potosí mita, was to become the largest and most onerous scheme of labor exploitation in the Spanish colonial period. De Toledo defined a huge catchment area, running from the middle of modern-day Peru and encompassing most of modern Bolivia. [..] The Potosí mita endured throughout the entire colonial period and was abolished only in 1825. Map 1 shows the catchment area of the mita superimposed on the extent of the Inca empire at the time of the Spanish conquest. It illustrates the extent to which the mita overlapped with the heartland of the empire, encompassing the capital Cusco.

Remarkably, you still see the legacy of the mita in Peru today. Take the differences between the provinces of Calca and nearby Acomayo. There appears to be few differences among these provinces. Both are high in the mountains, and each is inhabited by the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas. Yet Acomayo is much poorer, with its inhabitants consuming about one-third less than those in Calca. [..] In Calca and Acomayo, people grow the same crops, but in Calca they sell them on the market for money. In Acomayo they grow food for their own subsistence. These inequalities, apparent to the eye and to the people who live there, can be understood in terms of the institutional differences between these departments — institutional differences with historical roots going back to de Toledo and his plan for effective exploitation of indigenous labor. The major historical difference between Acomayo and Calca is that Acomayo was in the catchment area of the Potosí mita. Calca was not.

[..] Throughout the Spanish colonial world in the Americas, similar institutions and social structures emerged. After an initial phase of looting, and gold and silver lust, the Spanish created a web of institutions designed to exploit the indigenous peoples. [..] Though these institutions generated a lot of wealth for the Spanish Crown and made the conquistadors and their descendants very rich, they also turned Latin America into the most unequal continent in the world and sapped much of its economic potential.

Costa Rican resident here. Costa Rica invest a lot in renewables. Tourism is a huge income. There are lots of places to visit. Hundreds of volcanoes, 7 active. The climate, it can rain and then sunny...several times a day. Costa Rica exports technology. Intel, MS,Google...Several start ups...lots of outsourcing jobs.

Not complaining, but the last time I was in Costa Rica in the shopping mall the guards were carrying huge shotguns and a few months before that a colleague escaped a kidnapping tentative with car chases and automatic gunfire. other colleagues were taking dinner in a restaurant when a gang fight left several people in that restaurant dead and the company had to covertly extract my colleagues from the country because as eye witnesses they were in danger to be executed. This was all in San Jose, a few years ago.

What do you think is holding back its GDP per capita from competing with the top rankers?

I'm not the OP, but while the small population in CR is enthusiastic about technology and education, the cultural trend is having a simple and happy life, not being overly ambitious, and there isn't much artistic/technological creativity or innovation. The best workers easily find jobs in other countries: Canada, USA, UK, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, and so on.

Talking about outsourcing work, I'm from Mexico, I work with nearshore development teams and it amazes me how well represented Costa Rican developers are in the industry (considering Costa Rica has a population of 5 million people). I've met several great Costa Rican developers. My next vacations after the pandemic will definitely be in Costa Rica. Pura vida!

Had the honor of visiting years ago. It really is a gorgeous country.

Pura vida!

IIRC part of the answer is that they had a successful revolution led by principled people who realized that cultural capital is just as important as power and in fact maybe keeping a standing army had problems.



Well sure but then it relies on the US army. Costa Rica is allied with the US and foolish would be the country trying to declare war to Costa Rica because it'd very probably face the full wrath of Uncle Sam's army.

I'm not saying setting up an alliance with the country that has the biggest army in the world and then doing without an army is a bad thing...

What I'm saying though is that it'd probably be very different for a country without any alliance with the US to decide to have no army.

Technically it relies on the TIAR (interamerican treaty of reciprocal defense).

Edit: fixed acronym. Thanks

TIAR. ITAR is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

A standing army creates a ton of problems, but what happens if nobody has a standing army? Seems like someone has to play cop and eat the cost (both social and economic) of doing so.

Like many social problems, this is actually a coordination problem, and can be easily boiled down to a tragedy of the commons situation.

Everyone would prefer to not have an army, because most of the time you don't need them but they're still expensive to maintain and when you do need them they're even more expensive. But if nobody has an army then the bad actors can form an army and take over everybody else. So everybody needs to have an army unless and until you can get global coordination working to the point where everyone de-militarizes and the moment anyone starts militarizing everyone else does the same and joins together to absolutely crush that violator. You just gotta hope they weren't able to massively militarize in secret.

The seems unlikely to ever happen, so until then you have a couple countries that get to live in the sweet spot of not having their own army but still being covered by someone else's.

The fascinating thing is that the "well the bad guys could form an army" argument sounds logical, but really isn't. You can't secretly recruit and train several 100,000 people.

The closest we've ever come to seeing this happen in real time was probably with German rearmament in the 20s and 30s, and they were telegraphing for decades what they were doing.

It does however raise the other problem - if people are willing to stand by and ignore obviously bad actors skirting closer and closer to the line, you'll have at some point a fairly big problem, and it depends on how long you waited.

That is the bigger problem of global demilitarization - the fact that non-action in the face of a violation usually plays better to a domestic audience than actually doing something. (This is a pattern that has and will play out repeatedly. That's the actual question that needs answering)

Germany is actually a very illustrative example. They started remilitarization in earnest in 1933, Britain and France started around 1936, and those few years of head start let Germany trounce everyone around for the first few years of WWII despite their inferior industrial base.

That's ignoring the Free Corps, though. There was a lot of staffing up via paramilitaries. (Sort of like piling all your armies into Australia in Risk ;)

And I think it's worth calling out that Britain and France deliberately slowed down as a result of appeasement policies, not because they missed that Germany was rearming. That's what I meant in the GP post when I said "people willing to stand by and ignore obviously bad actors"

The Freikorps were not a useful force for conflict with peer states. The long-lead-time rearmament that Germany started early was gearing up industry and producing equipment. The Weimar efforts at deniable weapons development was nowhere near the open military work of Britain or France.

Alas with modern warfare you don't need 100k people in order to curb-stomp the unmilitarized competition.

I am certain the US for instance could easily make nukes with no other country knowing about it, and that's with all the people in the US who would scream that from the rooftops if they knew.

Or you could get even more creative: make a virus in a lab, develop a vaccine / cure, vaccinate your population, release the virus. We don't even know if COVID-19 came from a Wuhan lab and even if it did it seems incredibly unlikely it was developed as a weapon. Imagine the secrecy that would be involved by a country doing so deliberately.

Between nukes / bioweapons / chemical weapons / drones / etc, a country could definitely achieve a huge edge before any other country knew what was happening. It's not 1920 anymore.

You don't "easily make nukes". They require an incredibly large industrial infrastructure to support them.

And it's worth pointing out that bioweapons are not a problem that can be fixed with a standing army. (Again, not touching the fact that a BSL4 lab specializing in weaponized agents is not something that just escapes notice). And I'm terribly sorry, but the idea that you can vaccinate an entire population without anybody noticing is just flat out ridiculous.

> You don't "easily make nukes".

I didn't say anyone can, I said the US can. Even if the US "demilitarized", we could definitely still easily make nukes.

> And it's worth pointing out that bioweapons are not a problem that can be fixed with a standing army.

I never said standing army, I was clear about using demilitarized/militarized. You could use cyber security as another example – a country with a standing army is of course not going to help against a cyber offensive. However a country with cyber defenses...

> but the idea that you can vaccinate an entire population without anybody noticing is just flat out ridiculous.

The US vaccinates its population against the flu every year.

I think that, "what happens if nobody has a standing army?" is an interesting question. What I don't understand is why you think that "someone has to play cop"...?

If you go by historical data, when nobody has a standing army everybody has mercenaries (which leads to instability at scale).

Or someone gets the bright idea of putting together an army and conquering their neighbors (who don't have a standing army and are relying on Mercenaries who keep a good feel on which way the wind is blowing (and who will have the money to pay them in the future)).

The neighbors, not being stupid, notice this and build their own standing armies (or at least conscript militias). Which is why historically, the situation where there are no armies or militias is so rare: it's not a Nash equilibrium.

So long as you can raise an army at some future point in time should the need arise, this issue seems moot. It's inefficient to maintain a standing army when it is unnecessary.

>So long as you can raise an army at some future point in time should the need arise, this issue seems moot.

By the time you could cobble together an army any modern military would have already conquered you, especially if you have super strict civilian firearm laws like Costa Rica that make putting together defensive militias much, much harder.

> especially if you have super strict civilian firearm laws like Costa Rica that make putting together defensive militias much, much harder.

Not refuting the larger point, but this part sounds questionable. For a country, rifles are easy to provision: just buy enough and keep them in well-guarded armories in strategic locations. Trained soldiers are much harder to come by.

South Korea has relatively strict gun laws and very few people own one at home. But almost every male goes through two years of military service. In case of a foreign invasion, it won't take 24 hours to summon millions of civilians, just throw each one a rifle, and there's your army.

But no one else has a standing army in this scenario so there is no such modern military that can conquer you before you can remilitarize. The moment one country starts militarizing in a world without militaries, you know their intentions and can start remilitarizing to counter.

But let's say Costa Rica had a standing army - are they going to stop that modern military from conquering them? Probably not, so why waste money on a half assed defense?

Germany, between WWI & WWII, officially has no military to worry about. Was able to create a Europe-conquering army very quickly.

So would you describe the Maginot line as a good investment?

Obviously not. Germany noticed lines have ends, and just went around.

So you're saying that a nation without a large standing army can build a new force well suited to exploiting weaknesses of its adversaries who spend substantially on maintaining investments in defense which contain those exploitable weaknesses?

One might go so far as to say that not having a strong standing army for an extended period of time actually proved militarily advantageous for the Germans in 1940 when their new army outmaneuvered an obsolete one.

I was responding to “The moment one country starts militarizing in a world without militaries, you know their intentions and can start remilitarizing to counter.” Lack of a military is quite a weakness to exploit.

The Brits abd French actually drastically cut military spending between WWI and WWII

Also, they went around it using, in large part, Czech armor they took when they invaded Sudetenland.

No, in this scenario someone made an army and conquered you, and now they own you and your resources.

> but what happens if nobody has a standing army?

The moment someone has a standing army, we are, by definition, no longer in a situation where nobody has a standing army.

If someone can magically instantaneously create an army, then Costa Rica should just do that the moment they're threatened.

The issue is that while someone is building an army, the rest of the world might stand by and do nothing in hopes that the army won't be used, via appeasement and negotiation, particularly if the world's culture is strongly set against having armies. At least until the aggressor starts conquering. That's how it tends to play out historically, so countries and kingdoms go to the trouble and expense of having standing armies, or being able to call them up quickly enough. Because there's always potentially someone who gains power that wants more, and plenty of people willing to follow.

> particularly if the world's culture is strongly set against having armies.

If the world's culture is strongly set against having armies, and one country effectively threatens them by breaking that taboo, then I would at least expect the world to instantly cease all trade and transport links with the arming country.

That may not be enough on its own to force the taboo-breaking country to disarm, but I don't see any contradiction in a world culture which is against having armies while also ruthlessly dedicated to temporarily re-arming and exterminating the first country that breaks the taboo.

There are hard coordination and rule of law / presumption of innocence questions to solve there, but I don't think we can necessarily assume that this world culture will stand idly by while their enemy works to undo the very thing that defines the culture.

Aside from the many interesting answers in this thread, one thing that struck me when I visited was someone telling me that the terrain was more mountainous than some of the countries to the north, making the plantation economy that the Spanish installed less profitable, so you didn't have as much of the aristocracy/serf divide. This tends to lead to healthier political systems...

Mix of a country well suited for hydropower (+geothermal) and political will.

It's obviously easier for a country with lots of hydropower to go 100% renewable, as you have a potentially flexible source that not everyone has.

Education, well suited, several renewable sources. But lots of issues from politics


https://www.electricitymap.org/zone/CR?wind=false&solar=fals... (Electricitymap.org: Costa Rica)

2.36GW of total hydro generating capacity, 595MW of wind, and 1.64GW of geothermal, as well as interconnectors with Panama and Nicaragua to export excess renewables generation (or import when in nation generation isn't meeting consumption).

With CR's favorable geography for hydro, it'd make a lot of sense for central america to more tightly integrate their electrical grid, similar to how Tasmania's hydro capacity in Australia is used as a "big battery" for the rest of the NEM (eastern AUS electrical grid). In the above link I provide, the interconnectors are shown with real time usage data below generator capacity for each country/grid.

> import when in nation generation isn't meeting consumption

When people say "it's fiction" I think this is a lot of what they mean. If a location is net 100% renewable, say, someone who is 100% solar, so they generate lots of excess in the daytime, but, consume lots on cloudy days and at night and we assume that imported power is very dirty, they might be a net 100% renewable but ultimately they are consuming polluting power. I suspect, with tons of Hydro/Geothermal (which are very on-demand/stable sources) the gross amount of power that costa rica imports is actually quite low and they are actually doing very well (especially compared to others who are "net 100% renewable"), but, I would love to see that figure (gross import %) represented when people talk about being net 100% renewable. Net 100% renewable with 1% gross imports is far more impressive and sustainable than net 100% renewable with 25% gross imports.

No, that isn't what I meant.

Costa Rica does not run 100% on renewables. It's literally and simply a media half-baked feel good fiction.

They still have gas cars, diesel busses, diesel generators, &c.

They still emit tons and tons of carbon. They currently emit 1.64 metric tons per person, more than twice what their neighbors in Nicaragua do.

They're carbon neutral in the greasy, lawyer, "well technically we meant this" way that you should never, ever take seriously.

A Costa Rican has about 1/7 the emissions of an American.

I know it's lovely to pretend, but let's come back to the real world here. These things are easy to look up


> I would love to see that figure (gross import %)

Then look it up

As with everything, there is nuance. Good points. I think we're simply arguing over the amount of pessimism/optimism as the global energy transformation continues.

Not even arguing (I'm not the person who said "it's false" without providing any information). I say it because I want to reward projects which can hit a crazy 1% gross target vs projects which are primarily for show and aren't useful without dirty grid power backing them a huge % of the time.

There's proposals to build a giant pumped storage hydro scheme in Tassie [1], which would literally make it a "big battery".

[1] https://www.hydro.com.au/clean-energy/battery-of-the-nation

I poorly communicated the idea in that part of my comment to be honest, my apologies. It's currently a battery in the sense that it exports during the wet season and imports from VIC during the dry season. As mentioned, it'd be a "proper battery" where it can "charge" from renewables (or, dreadfully, fossil) with the link you and I provided in this subthread.

Hydro resources are an important component of future grids, as long duration battery storage is pricey (although short duration storage such as Tesla's install at the Hornsdale Power Reserve is critical for ancillary services like frequency response and synthetic inertia, to keep frequency and voltage within tolerances when a thermal generator trips or renewables drop offline).

What do you mean Tasmania’s hydro is used as a big battery?

My understanding is it barely provides enough electricity for the state, and the interconnect is used to consume power from Victoria 99% of the time


Hover over exports on the right hand side. There are imports from VIC occasionally, but Tas Hydro's plan is to build pumped hydro infra [1], as well as an additional interconnector to South Australia [2] which has robust renewables resources.

[1] https://www.hydro.com.au/clean-energy/battery-of-the-nation/...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marinus_Link

Exports are listed as -10%. Im super confused though.

Depending on the season Tasmania exports a lot of electricity to the mainland.

Links to sources would go a long way to helping your case.

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." - Christopher Hitchens.

> Links to sources would go a long way to helping your case.

Anyone who would actually listen looked it up when I said it, and learned something.

The redditors demanded a field guide, and got nothing.


"Shitty quotes won't get you far on HN" - Abraham Lincoln

They also invested early in preserving their nature and establishing parks. Additionally, all their beaches are public. It’s illegal to build a fence on the ocean. These have contributed to large tourism income.

I believe one of the reasons is they don't have defense spending per-se. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Force_of_Costa_Rica#His... They let the US handle all of that for them, and they spend funds on power. This isn't to say that they're an infrastructure paradise. A region I visited had poor roads and internet connectivity.

This is my understanding. With the US supporting them, it makes certain things a bit easier. I've also visited and depending where you go, it certainly isn't some kind of sci-fi utopia. Crime and poverty are still tragically rampant. But we should certainly celebrate their renewable achievement as that's a massive victory for any nation.

Crime and poverty are rampant in parts of the US too

That has nothing to do with a conversation about Costa Rica.

Reminds me of an old communist joke/jab at the capitalists' expense:

"A small African country's cabinet is meeting to come up with solutions for the bleak economic situation. One minister says: 'I know! Let's declare war on the United States! After they invade us they will have to support us.' Everyone murmurs in agreement at the clever plan. However one last minister is not convinced and says: 'But... what if we win?'"

See also the (old) movie, "The Mouse that Roared". Follows exactly that theme. Peter Sellers playing about four different roles.

>Is there an easy answer as to why Costa Rica is doing so well?

Yes. Anytime you see an article that says "X country runs on 100% renewable" ... it's hydro-electric power every time. So if your country is blessed with a type of geography that makes hydro electric power viable, you're golden!

Solar and Wind cannot power a modern economy without fossil fuel back-up.

France at least has a huge amount of nuclear power. I wish we saw more reactors built in the U.S., it would certainly kill a lot of birds with a single stone.

Killing birds! Wind turbines?

I agree with your point about geography. I was very surprised to learn that Austria has a huge amount of hydropower. Sure, I knew Austria has a lot of mountains, but combined with rivers and relatively low population density, it allows them to get more than 50% of their power from hydro!

Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Austria

About your last point: <<Solar and Wind cannot power a modern economy without fossil fuel back-up.>>

I respectfully disagree. I think solar+wind+batteries+nuclear can do the trick. Not everywhere, but many places.

I'm surprised no one talks more about how countries near the equator (DRCongo, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.) will transition to renewables. Wind is much weaker near the equator, and building huge solar farms will mean cutting down precious rainforest. It's a real conundrum!

I'm ignorant - why can't solar and wind provide enough power? What about somewhere like Arizona/Nevada/Utah?

Because those are intermittent power sources. That is, there are times when the wind isn't blowing, and sun isn't shining, and there is no battery technology (now or coming) that is capable of storing enough energy to bridge this intermittency gap. This is why solar and wind need fossil fuel back-up. Natural gas companies are some of the biggest proponents of solar and wind projects.

Can you elaborate on the "or coming" part of your post? What makes you think batteries won't be substantially better 20 years from now?

Because we've been working pretty hard on batteries pretty hard for over 200 years, it will take a 10-20X improvement over current technology and we're not really seeing anything that is exponential like that anytime soon. I mean obviously it could happen, it's just unlikely given the past 200 years of steady improvement and not step function improvements.

My heuristic for pessimism:

We use enourmous amounts of energy and we invest enourmous amounts of money in energy production. At the same time we have neglible storage and and neglible investment in storage.

some numbers:

194MWh - capacity of Hornsdale Power Reserve in Australia

161 million A$ - it's cost (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornsdale_Power_Reserve)

4 700 000 MWh - Australia's daily total consumption of energy of all fuel types (https://www.energy.gov.au/data/energy-consumption)

4700000 / 194 = 24226 - number of same power reserves to store australias power for one day.

24226 * 161 millions = 3.9 trillions of A$ - money needed to build a days capacity in Australia at current price.

(for comparison, Australia GDP is near 2 trillion A$, US GDP is 27 trilion A$)

Short answer: solar produces ~10 watts per square meter, all factors considered. Wind, even less. USA consumes 3.8T kWh/yr electricity, needing 44,000 square kilometers (20% of Utah) of solar panels & buffer batteries to supply.

Conceivable, but a massive undertaking at a scale having inevitable significant problems ($66T price tag for starters).

($66T = 1m^2 panel + 1kWh battery from https://www.goalzero.com/shop/kits/goal-zero-yeti-1000x-powe... times 44,000km^2. That’s 3 years of the USA‘s entire GDP.)

Anecdotal - I spent some time in Costa Rica and was able to interact with some local families. In conversation, it was explained to me that they (parents) want their kids educated and to learn as many languages as they can. Commonly, English, Spanish, French and German. The idea being that the more education and languages their children know the better prepared and enabled they are to leave the country and earn a better wage and life elsewhere. This also results in their children being able to send money home to help care for their family.

The reason is Costa Rica, while being a colony of Spain, used to trade a lot with UK, specially tobacco. Also had good relations with the US. For that reason it has one of the first electrified cities in the world.

The army was removed before the cold war started, and CR was neutral in the game that USA-USSR played in all Latin America, of placing and destroying governments (Iran-Contra, CIA drugs, Noriega, etc). Also the savings are transferred to education and infrastructure.

The lands in CR aren't as fertile as the rest of Central America, but it has plenty of water from the mountain ranges. It can sell hydro-power to its neighbors. Also the geography detour hurricanes which means more savings from reconstruction.

Intel factory was established with the help of national electronic engineers who studied their careers in Germany.

Costa Rica is an interesting mishmash of neoliberal economic policies and some radical (non-traditional) ideas.

non-traditional ideas:

* no army

* generate most government revenue from sales taxes rather than income taxes

* firm commitment to prioritize economic growth over social spending (Costa Rica has among the highest rates of inequality in the OECD)

* much higher levels of education spending (7+% of GDP) (but PISA scores in the bottom half of Latin America and they are falling)

That said, it has problems common to Latin America:

* Low test scores and poor educational outcomes

* Declining fertility leading to pension shortfalls

* Black/gray markets where a large part of the labor force is employed informally and thus does not make pension contributions or pay income taxes

In terms of taxation, there is a 13% sales tax on everything except food and medicine.

They do have an income tax, but it's a weird hybrid between a flat tax and a wealth-surcharge, in that the majority of the population pays no income tax at all.

Median income in Costa Rica is about 6K and average income is 9K. But your first $10K is tax exempt, those earning 10-18K pay 10%, and the highest bracket is 15%.

That is a very different structure than you find in western nations which have upper tax brackets in the range of 40% or even 80%.

There is a separate income tax for self-employed workers which goes up to 25%, but again very few self-employed businesses will earn.

Costa Rica also has a progressive property tax, starting at .25% and going to .55% with the highest bracket applying to 3 million dollars or more. It has 7 property brackets. Thus there are more than twice as many property tax brackets as there are income tax brackets! Yet because those brackets, like the income brackets, only hit the very high end, overall Costa Rica collects the among the least revenue from income and property taxes compared to the rest of the OECD. It is almost entirely dependent on sales taxes, excise taxes, and social security contributions to fund its budget.

It also has a number of free trade zones in which businesses don't pay any taxes at all (neither income, nor import/export) if they meet certain conditions.

source: https://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/costa-rica-2020-OECD-ec...

Eco tourism is huuuge in Costa Rica, and the local peoples greatly value both the cultural and economic value of conservation. I don't think that explains why they've been successful when others have not, but I'd be surprised if leadership and it's constituents there did not at least have the political will to do whatever it needed to to maintain the beauty of the country--it's literally their livelihood.

I don't have an answer in particular, but I was surprised to discover that Panama is doing just as well, if not better, in most macro-measures (HDI, median income, per capita GDP PPP, etc.) than Costa Rica. Took me by surprise!

Lots of wind and hydro. Plus they use 1/6th energy of us.

Edit: why the downvotes? Just because I mentioned they use way less power than the US?

Hydro is a huge part of it. The amount of water flowing from the mountains to the ocean is almost incomprehensible for a Coloradan like me.

Yet Nicoya is dry most part of the year

Here is the key, from the article

> Also, Costa Rica can get a lot of rain. With consistent rainfall, their hydroelectric plants can produce a plethora of energy.

A quick search lead me to 2/3 hydro.

Of course, there are other reasons, but essentially, hydro is almost a perfect way of generating electricity. It is cheap, renewable, and comes with built-in storage. Whether or not it is environmentally friendly is debatable but at least, it produces no emission or waste.

The problem is that there is a limited capacity, once you have dammed all the interesting rivers, you can't get any more. Costa Rica just happens to have enough to cover most of their needs.

But if they want more, they will have to find another strategy, and that's what they are doing. I guess having that much hydro helps than absorb the peaks of solar and wind. They also have geothermal energy they can exploit. They can also bank on their reputation as a "green" country. So, IMHO, smart decisions on their side, playing on their advantages.

No military. When the Dutch government gave independence to their South American colony of Suriname they advised it: do not create a military.

Military in South/Middle America= failure.

But why does having an army fail these countries?

Because the military becomes the favored career path, and then ends up controlling politics to keep itself well funded.

Not pissing off the United States? My understanding is that most Central and some South American countries have had their governments intentionally destabilised by the US because they were perceived as too left wing.

This has to be a huge part and it's sad but not surprising that you're being downvoted here. Almost every other country in Latin America has either been invaded by the US, or has gone through US-backed coups, economic sanctions during the cold war, etc.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in_r...

From your link:

Tensions between government and the opposition, supported by the CIA, caused the short-lived Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 that ended Calderón's government and led to the short de facto rule of 18 months by José Figueres Ferrer.

Sounds like he had an interesting relationship with the CIA, to say the least:

>"At the time, I was conspiring against the Latin American dictatorships and wanted help from the United States", he recalled. "I was a good friend of Allen Dulles."

>"Anyway", Mr. Figueres went on, "the C.I.A.'s Cultural Department helped me finance a magazine and some youth conferences here. But I never participated in espionage. I did beg them not to carry out the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which was madness, but they ignored me."

>Figueres backed the leftist Sandinista revolution in neighboring Nicaragua that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979. He railed against U.S. policy when the United States supported Nicaragua's Contra guerrillas.

It also reads as though his 1958 testimony before Congress [0] shamed the CIA into facilitating the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, a bloody right-wing dictator who Figueres all but named:

>"If you’re going to speak of human dignity in Russia, why is it so hard to speak of human dignity in the Dominican Republic? Where is intervention and where is non-intervention? Is it that a simple threat, a potential one, to your liberties, is, essentially, more serious than the kidnapping of our liberties?"

>With Figueres as sponsor, Bosch and Ornes agreed to form a coalition government in anticipation of the overthrow of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Such a fascinating figure. Amazed I never knew his name before now.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Figueres_Ferrer#1958...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_Trujillo

Wow, Ferrer was brilliant. He made friends with the devil, and kept the devil looking elsewhere. One suspects this was also thanks to the fact that Costa Rica had no oil or fruit plantations...

With respect to the coup mentioned upthread, it's notable that Ferrer instituted largely the same reforms proposed by Calderón and previously instituted in USA by FDR. That took courage.

You might want to read https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Feast_of_the_Goat or Trujillo’s successor’s book with the blank page in the middle.

Yeah, not strictly zero intervention of course (a socialist won a democratic election and the US wasn't going to have it), but compared to other countries it was shorter-lived and longer ago.

Maybe 50-70 years ago? yeah. Now? no. USA barely does anything in Central and South America any longer.

Are you just being sarcastic?

Just a random result from searching for "bolivia coup": https://theintercept.com/2020/07/23/the-u-s-supported-coup-i...

It probably helps that pop growth compared to like countries was lower, so they have a more balanced age distribution.

Without corruption from top to bottom you can get a lot done. Most bureaucracies and police forces in central america are rotten to the core, and then you have the gangs who take advantage of that. It's a really hard feedback loop to break out of. Costa Rica has managed to beat that.

"Costa Rica had an estimated population of 4,999,441 people. White and Mestizos make up 83.4% of the population"

They have the second largest European descendant population in South America after Uruguay. The European culture of support for democracy can be attributed here (not claiming any genetic predisposition).

Most of South/Latin America is afflicted by the resource curse.

Step one: no heavy industries

With all that hydro power, I am surprised they do not have a huge aluminium smelting industry!

Tiny country that has very little industry?

> Tiny country that has very little industry?

Pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development, and ecotourism have become the prime industries in Costa Rica's economy. High levels of education among its residents make the country an attractive investing location. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica#Trade_and_foreign_i...

None of these qualify as "industry" being mostly tertiary.

>> The country's Free Trade Zones provide incentives for manufacturing and service industries to operate in Costa Rica. In 2015, the zones supported over 82 thousand direct jobs and 43 thousand indirect jobs.

they're tiny, non-industrial, and they don't track brownouts

I live part-time in Costa Rica. Brownouts occur 1-4x every day. It’s usually just a few seconds and not all that bad. The worst part is when you have to restart the dishwasher.

Resident here. No issues with brownouts. Costa Rica uses different sources of electricity with several producers hence different experiences by different people

It might not be bad for you but it's pretty rough on your AC motors like fridge compressor etc. Most of them are constant power machines - a voltage drop means a current rise means a hot winding means a failed motor.

I'd always wondered and never asked why turning off a fridge was bad for it. Thank you!

A lot of people in Costa Rica have generators on standby for blackouts and brown outs.

I live in California and I have an APC on standby for when my power company cuts power too. They've already encouraged that I refrain from using my AC during the heatwave of course. People think we in the U.S. are far removed from the experiences of people in other countries, but we aren't really. That's just our biased perception. A lot of LA looks just like parts of central america.

Battery backups as well?

That's probably not accountable as "renewable"...

Seems like an opportunity for a massive battery system similar to the Hornsdale Power Reserve in Australia that Tesla pulled out all the stops for.

"Massive" Honsdale battery is capable of supplying much less than 1% of grid power in Australia. An installation of that size could help at the margins to prevent some brownout events, but don't overestimate the capacity of batteries compared to grid demand. It looks like Costa Rica has about 3600 MW of generating capacity. The Hornsdale battery is good for 150 MW.

You don't have to supply the entire grid demand - only smooth out the brownouts, which something the size of Hornsdale would likely be able to do for Costa Rica

Note that Hornsdale is also tiny compared to batteries currently being developed in Australia. The new battery in the Hunter will be 1200MW - which is enough to nullify the need for all gas-generated peaking capacity in that state

As someone who knows very little about power systems - is this true? Watts are a unit of instantaneous energy delivery, so if the whole system browns out then doesn’t the battery need to handle 100% of the load? I guess I would expect the entire system not to drop at the same time but worth asking if someone knew this.

I'm assuming a brownout is usually a drop in voltage (a reduction in output power), so a backup battery wouldn't need to handle 100% of the load, just some fraction, for a short period of time.

Worth noting that of that 150MW, only about 70MW over 10 minutes is available to the government to stabilize the grid. The remaining capacity is reserved for the Neoen (the privately owned energy company running the facility) to buffer energy prices by storing excess energy when prices are low.

The battery is for one state, not the country. Batteries only need to cover intermittent load, not 100% of generated load… so the difference in MW doesn’t mean anything without knowing how long generation is reduced for and the net negative that occurs on the grid

Would be good for those 5 second brownouts though

Flywheels are a pretty good solution for ride-through of brownouts. Fairly compact and instantly available.

Where are they deployed at scale?

Literally everywhere. They're standard issue.

The Level3 building in San Diego had a two story iron flywheel that got loose and cut its way through the highway.

They are by far the most common kind of energy storage on Earth. Even in your car, which has both.


Hospitals, datacenters. Plenty of them to ensure that operation theater gear continues to work uninterrupted in case of brown out or the - short - interval during which generators start up if the power should fail.

Teraloop, AFS and others.

I've read about expats praising Costa Rica for its low costs and beautiful properties that foreigners can buy. How was your experience there?

It took about 2 months of us being there to pull the trigger and buy a house.

Costs for most things are low, except for cars. Cars are insanely expensive due to the ~50% import tax. Electricity is also fairly expensive per KWH.

The people are very nice and generally welcoming to foreigners.

You never run out of things to do, either. There’s always another adventure to explore.

Fiber internet is accessible in most areas I’ve been to. Pretty reliable to boot. I’ve never had an issue Zooming etc.

It really is extremely beautiful.

Overall, we have very few complaints about the country.

That import tax on cars is interesting. Several years ago I sold a used Toyota Echo that I'd had for ~12 years, but had maintained nicely. The buyer's whole effort was buying used Echos and shipping them to Costa Rica. I thought that was pretty niche, but I guess a very reliable and quite cheap car finding a home in a place where prices high makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for helping make the pieces fit.

how about the weather and climate?

I don't think foreigners can get a mortgage though, you might have to buy property outright.

If median salary is $9k/year I would assume their housing market to be a lot more affordable than Toronto's.

Actually if thats really the median salary then Costa Rica is far less affordable than Toronto. Look at these prices on this website (albeit one of the first search hits that comes up) (1) I'm seeing 3-4 bedroom homes for at least $500k USD in some cases. If you can afford to pay that outright with no financing as a foreigner in Costa Rica, you can certainly afford a down payment in Toronto's housing market today.

1. https://www.propertiesincostarica.com/homes.html

four brownouts a day is an instant kill for industry

despite that you're okay with it, most heavy users of power aren't

the reason they're omitting this from the reporting is that the reporting just isn't true

Depends entirely on the length of the brownouts and the type of industry, there are long-proven fallback and standby options that can smooth out temporary blips (or just clean dirty power in general) that allow 'industry' to work just about anywhere in the world. The bigger issue in Costa Rica is that they aren't actively courting heavy industry, so their power is very expensive for commercial users -- nearly $0.20/kWh compared to half that rate in a place like Mexico or Colombia, or more like $0.05/kWh in Texas.

Standby = spinning up diesel generators in a lot of cases.

That’s fair. Every grocery store has a massive diesel generator sitting out back. Guess they don’t want their cold foods to spoil.

As a counter point, nearly all brownouts occur after 6 PM. So maybe it affects heavy industry less?

Puerto Rico's 4 blackouts a day stares awkwardly from the distance. Guess the US isn't doing any better.

We really need two words for renewables: one for types that scale but don't provide power on demand (wind, solar), and the other for types that provide power on demand but aren't available at scale everywhere (hydro, geothermal).

Costa Rica is blessed with plenty of the second type and uses it. Because we lump it all into "renewables," it sounds like it should be easy for everyone to follow their example, and that's not the case. No country has run on a high percentage of wind/solar/battery for a long period of time.

> We really need two words for renewables: one for types that scale but don't provide power on demand (wind, solar), and the other for types that provide power on demand but aren't available at scale everywhere (hydro, geothermal).

The wording you are looking for is "dispatchable" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispatchable_generation).

Yes but generally that term includes fossil.

> No country has run on a high percentage of wind/solar/battery for a long period of time.

Only because it's early. The first grid-scale battery only went online 3 years ago.

In that example (South Australia) you only have to look at this chart[0] to see what it done to grid renewable demand and where the trend is heading.

There are multiple GW more of additional battery coming online over the next few years

[0] https://opennem.org.au/stripes/sa1/?metric=renewablesProport...

My state, Iowa, was 60% renewable over the last year. This is almost entirely from wind as Iowa is probably among the flattest US states.

I'll concede it's not a typical country since the weather is pretty unique, but Scotland is ~97% renewable and ~75% wind. It's well suited for some parts of the world at least.

>but Scotland is ~97% renewable ...

They aren't. The 97% renewable claim is misleading. Scotland can generate huge amount of wind/solar energy at certain times of day that they cannot use, and therefore they have to rely on fossil fuels for evenings and nights and any time sun isn't shining and wind isn't blowing.

Their actual renewable *consumption* is on the order of 30%.

Do you have a source? I would love to read more about that.

FWIW I currently live in Norway which is ~100% renewable but that's mainly hydro and a very different situation with the amount of potential energy that hydro gives the 5M population.

I just tried to find some more information on Scotlands consumption but couldn't find it. Most interesting piece I found was this:

51.7% of electricity generated in Scotland was generated by renewable technologies, compared to just 29.3% for the UK as a whole (or 25.6% for the rest of the UK, excluding Scotland). [1]

The 97% figure quoted earlier is a gross figure [2] that is worked out on the basis of total renewable generation compared to total consumption. The problem is that the two don't always line up and we don't have large scale gird storage to handle it so it doesn't get used. Instead more polluting electricity is imported from England.

1. https://www.gov.scot/publications/annual-energy-statement-20...

2. https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publ...

This is the one you want: https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-energy/_w_8738d4b2/?Section...

42% of electricity consumption derives from wind power. The rest of carbon-free energy derives from Nuclear and Hydro. And then you have natural gas as back-up.

I hope this is the right one: https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-energy/_w_8738d4b2/?Section...

Wind accounts for 42%. Solar does nothing.

The 97% is from charts like this: https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-energy/_w_8738d4b2/?Section...

And they define 'Gross electricity consumption' as referring to total electricity generation minus net exports.

Here's my home province of Ontario: https://live.gridwatch.ca/home-page.html

At the time of this posting, Hydro and Nuclear account for 85% of total energy consumption. 10% from Wind, so 95% of our energy is carbon-free. Wind for us is a vanity play since we can just buy more hydro power from Quebec.

I would love to a see a cost per watt across all renewables. is building a hydro and geothermal plant much cheaper than solar given you have the right conditions for solar?

Isn't geothermal theoretically available everywhere?

Some available is more available than others

I believe that the issue is that the Earth's crust isn't uniformly thick, and that there are places where one could drill for miles without reaching magma/suitable heat sources, and other places (Costa Rica and Iceland come to mind) where the suitable heat sources are essentially on the surface.

Or, looking at it another way - oil drilling happens all over the globe and "hitting magma" isn't really a risk they're concerned about because it's so deep, that even the industry concerned with drilling too greedily and too deep doesn't intersect with it.

Magma is not necessary for geothermal. Regular fracking methods suffice to get to sufficiently hot strata. Once at the right level, you drill two holes horizontally in parallel for several hundred yards and pump cooled water down one and get hot water out the other. It stays liquid under pressure and boils water in a heat exchanger at the surface.

The tech is still at pilot stage, but with no fundamental problems to solve. The important question is whether it will be able to compete commercially with solar and wind, which costs are still in free-fall.


And in fact the battery method has been proven to work to solve Australia's power issue (thanks Elon!).

Part of the bargain was that Tesla will be recycling the materials for these batteries when they are EoL. Until that actually happens, the battery only solves half the problem.

Sure. That seems like a kind of uncharitable way to put it though. It's possible that I'm reading in a tone that isn't there.

Building the first grid-scale battery bank, and having it succeed in smoothing out the delivery curve for an intermittent-heavy grid: that's a huge victory! It's a triumph really.

Insisting on the accountability and follow-through is important, sure. But that battery solves the whole problem we have right now, and will serve as a test case for solving the problem which it itself created for a decade down the road.

Maybe Elon will be broke by then, or living on Mars, or we'll all complete the Singularity and have chips in our head. My hope is that they just fulfill the contract. In any case there's no reason to show that kind of skepticism about something which can't have happened yet.

AOC is not exactly someone I would trust to have deep knowledge about this topic

A politician doesn't need specialist knowledge, they need to trust in the experts that have it. Looking at the US political landscape, trusting scientists is quite a rare trait and AOC seems to be one of the best when it comes to that.

Portugal also got good results recently:

"Renewables produce 79.5% of Portugal's power in Q1 2021"


Impressive. Especially since Q1 is often one of the lesser quarters for solar and wind. Some sunny&cold spring days will boost solar, though.

Portugal looks pretty dirty on electricitymap.org. They‘re burning quite a lot of natural gas.

The update is telling:

> Update 3/17/2021: Our original article stated "Costa Rica Has Run on 100% Renewable Energy for 299 Days." It was pointed out to us that while Costa Rica's electric grid does run primarily on renewable energy, a better title would have been "Costa Rica Has Run on 100% Renewable Electricity". Below the article says that the government had not burned any oil to power the country, but this would technically imply that the government does not own gasoline powered vehicles, which couldn't be true.

Accounting for the origins of energy is tricky business. Want to squeeze out internal combustion engines? Go electric. Where do the batteries come from, and how much non-renewable energy does it cost to produce them? For that matter, how many goods are important with non-neglibile carbon footprints? Because carbon emissions can be exported.

> In other words, a country can be considered carbon neutral while still using fossil fuels by planting trees that offset the carbon, or funding conservation programs which aim to reduce the amount of carbon in the air.

How long do those trees you're planting keep CO2 out of the atmosphere? When they die, a good chunk of that carbon may be released.

Where do the batteries come from, and how much non-renewable energy does it cost to produce them?

There's an interconnection. As the world electrifies, it will become easier for manufacturing to electrify, too.

this. Alot of people forget that progress for progress sake does indeed beget more progress.

Anecdotal, rather whimsical example; As soon as i transitioned my factorio to electricity, i found it much easier to just build a solar panel factory and batterys to power everything because i stop getting attacked by the mobs.

Also, one future problem that i find funny. Electric is better. If everyone had access to cheap, renewable energy it only makes sense to transition to that renewable energy. Also with the rise of carbon removal, I see global warming in the future becoming an entirely different problem to solve. It shows in our models that the PPM of carbon in the atmosphere has different effects throughout the world. So once we 'solve' the climate crisis, what entity says where the happy medium is? If it makes one region arid and another eden, who gets to be the deciding factor.

I see a future where carbon sequestration and maybe even addition is a matter of national security.

Cut them down and build something out of them, or bury them. I heard that charring before burning is beneficial, but never looked into why that might be.

Charring burns off the hydrogen, leaving solid carbon.

Pulverizing the charcoal and plowing it into farm fields improves the soil.

What about Paraguay? It's been running on 100% renewable electricity since the late 1980s, and it has a larger population.

In fact you could say it is running on 300% renewable electricity, because it has large Hydro electric dam, exports around 70% of what it generates to Brazil and Argentina and only uses 30% itself.

70-80% Hydro [~90% Hydro+Geothermal]. ~10% wind and almost no PV.

It's important to keep in mind that wind and solar aren't really a part of this success story.

California does not consider hydro to be renewable, so according to California law Costa Rica has not been running on renewable energy. This is to point out California needs to redefine hydro into a renewable resource.

Most implementations of hydroelectric power involve cutting off and severely degrading the habitat of aquatic life, both upstream and downstream. Societies depend on these resources so it's hard to justify calling hydro power sustainable in a general sense. To those negatively impacted by the dam, it rightly feels like a ruthless power grab by outsiders coming to steal water and energy without any thought for the livelihoods that are destroyed.

Of course hydro power can be done correctly, assuming the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the watershed and careful tradeoffs. How many dams were built with such an equitable process?

Given hydro power's well-documented negative impacts, and our arsenal of other truly renewable energy sources, damming new rivers should be a last resort. In the US at least there is a strong trend of dam removal - many ill-considered hydro projects are costly to maintain, an economic loss to society as a whole, and a detriment to the environment. Quite far from any feasible definition of "renewable resource".

I thought California was running out of water because so much of the water rights are being utilized for agriculture.

Would it be possible for them to utilize hydro significantly without destroying their agricultural industry?

California is already using as much hydro power as is available for it to use. That use all happens upstream from the agricultural use; they do not compete. Agricultural use competes with wildlife and fishery, instead.

California also generates a really large amount of its power geothermally. We don't hear much about the many mature geothermal projects.

I thought Cali was killing off hydro by attrition because they say it damages river ecosystems?

Why ? is there a stated reason

Because of ecosystem and water footprint impacts associated with dams, in conjunction with the operational requirements of power generation. Dams obviously convert a river into a lake and impede/alter natural migratory patterns. Less obviously, hydroelectric power generation dictates a pattern of water release that is at odds with other demands on water usage, for human and natural usage purposes. (You can imagine that downstream environments might benefit from water flow which is more steady, or which follows natural rhythms; this is in conflict to some degree with grid demand for power.)

That's not zero carbon though if your carbon usage some other thing may have to traded off.

Utilities are required to buy a certain percentage from renewables. I think California wants to encourage more growth from solar and wind.

Still going to need base load - so CA is going for NNB (nuclear new build ) for that.

Renewables are getting much cheaper every year:

* In 2020, the global weighted-average levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from new capacity additions of onshore wind declined by 13%, compared to 2019.

* Over the same period, the LCOE of offshore wind fell by 9% and that of utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) by 7%.

Source: https://www.irena.org/publications/2021/Jun/Renewable-Power-...

LCOE is not what determines market prices but supply and demand.

End customers pay market prices, not production costs.

I don’t have any advantage as a customer when electricity is super cheap when it can’t be produced on demand.

those "prices" are misleading and are tantamount to wind and solar propaganda figures.

There is a major cost that is not accounted for here - the cost of balancing the grid. When wind turbines aren't spinning and solar PV is dead, the grid continues to function. The generators doing that have a cost and that cost is paid for by the customer. The source of the problem is the variable generator i.e. wind or solar but the LCOE figure does not account for this because that charge is not passed on to the renewable generator.

Those costs must be part of the LCOE figure else it is like saying that email costs zero.

Where did Costa Rica go so right? In the news it always appears to be a bastion of moderation and success, especially when compared to its neighbours.

Costa Rica is a small nation with favorable geography, a great balance of population and density with some fantastic externalities that let them focus on domestic affairs.

Also, while its nice, its not especially wealthy, nor situated in a way to become an important geopolitical chess-piece.

Not being a chess piece also is part of their success however. Don't want to be the mouse under a herd of dancing elephants.

no oil

no ticket.

He said compared to its neighbors tho

Panama has done pretty well itself after the narcotrafficking president was ousted back in the late 80s.

The US never installed a puppet dictator in Costa Rica or enforced embargos, as opposed to all its neighbours.

by lying about its grid, being non-industrial, and having power demand on par with a city despite having the name of a country

vatican city is pretty green too

Costa Rica is a small country with hardly any industry and abundant amounts of hydro power.

The country’s whole electricity demand is about 1.82 GW according to electricitymap.org with around 1.5 GW from hydropower and the rest mostly from geothermal power.

1.82 GW is a little more than a single EPR reactor. Just for comparison.

Just for comparison, France has 25 GW of hydro electricity , it’s the second largest hydro producer in Europe behind Sweden.

Hydro only cover 15% of France total electricity demand.

It’s indeed all about scale.

I wonder how these numbers compare per capita. I'm assuming the average french person uses more electricity than the average costa rican. Both in terms of electric transit in france and the cooler winters.

The Wikipedia list of nations by renewable energy[0] mentions some others as high scorers. Sorting by %Renewable, the top are

* Albania 100

* DR of the Congo 100

* Iceland 100

* Paraguay 100

* Namibia 99.3

* Costa Rica 97.7

All of these are small countries with relatively small total power quantities. Not to say it isn't a praiseworthy achievement to get to, or near, 100% renewable at any quantity. But if you sort the table on Total GWhr of RE, they are far down the list. The runaway winner in quantity of renewable generation is China, with the US, Brazil and Canada fighting for fourth place.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_renewable...

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a massive country with 90 million people and an area about 4x as big as Texas. That's a very impressive achievement.

Costa Rica’s per capita electricity use (about 400W right now) is less than half of New York state’s (about 1kW).

Solutions to fossil fuel use are going to have to involve drastic cuts in our electricity consumption.

In CR, electricity is comparatively very expensive. In the US we think nothing of leaving lights on when we go out or go to bed. In CR it's considered extremely taboo to leave lights or fans on unnecessarily.

> Solutions to fossil fuel use are going to have to involve drastic cuts in our electricity consumption.

Why? Why can't we produce enough from wind and solar and store it in batteries? Maybe use electric cars as batteries for helping to balance the grid.

We currently use a huge amount of energy, only a tiny fraction of which comes from wind and solar [1]. Transitioning all energy to renewable is not just a matter of swapping out one source for another. [2]

[1] https://twitter.com/drvolts/status/1405387412168052738/photo...


Lithium scarcity is one issue. Much of the cheap lithium has already been mined.

We'll likely need to utilize different chemistries that are less suited for cars for grid scale solutions.

No the solution is to impose carbon tax, and:

* Let consumer decide what is more important for them, saved money or not worrying about light switches

* Give capitalists incentive to produce greener electricity

Yes, technically, forcing people to reduce their quality of life is a solution, but it's better to solve the problem without it.

No. Capitalism is not capable of addressing the climate and ecological crisis.

If governments forced power producers to factor in externalities like cost of global warming and pollution actually they could and probably better than some leftists who think governments should come in and jackboot the populace into compliance.

I explained how it will work.

Care you explain where I'm wrong or present any arguments to substantiate your point of view?

Otherwise you comment is equivalent to just "I disagree", which contributes zero to the discussion.

A carbon tax might've worked if implemented a couple of decades ago, when it could be gradually increased over time, and giving industries time to adapt. It is meant to be a gentle way for the government to change behavior.

But the scale of emissions reductions required now -- at least 10% per year [1] -- would mean that the price of carbon would have to immediately be cripplingly high. Obviously, that's bad for anyone who isn't rich. And there's no appetite for high taxes.

The point being, if the government is going to intervene to the degree that the climate crisis requires, then the government might as well directly shut down industries and institute regulations on behavior, instead of indirectly through carbon taxes. As we've been reminded of recently, the wealthy always find loopholes around paying their fair share of taxes.

[1] https://www.showyourbudgets.org/?country=united_states_of_am... And even this budget is likely conservative, as committed warming is a topic of debate.

The lion's share of Costa Rica's power is hydroelectric. This can't easily be replicated by a lot of other countries, since it's highly dependent on local geography.

Why is a country not able to come out of poverty post colonialism? Some have succeeded like the East Asian "Tiger" economies some haven't like India and Bangladesh, yet. Like everything its a confluence of factors.

Costa Rica is an outlier but perhaps it's only because of success of policy. To make an industry flourish and provide gainful employment(like the IT and Services sector in Costa Rica) you need Labor or Capital. In india for example the manufacturing industry is badly hobbled with lack of capital availability and poor labor laws an exception being the IT Services Sector where laws were written specifically to exempt them of such onerous regulation and capital is available more freely.

Perhaps with the sparse population and good Services Sector and Tourism is a happy path to prosperity for Costa Rica, but for other Central American countries like Guatemala or El Salvador it's harder because the right conditions have never been allowed to take root.

The thing that really pisses me off is that governments in the past worked SO HARD to argue that renewable energy could never work.

Nixon actually wanted to build 1000 nuclear power plants in the U.S. by the year 2000. Today there 60. Governments of the past didn't argue against renewable energy, they gave up on renewable energy in the face of political opposition, which ironically at the time came from the anti-nuclear left.

Nixon wanted to build nukes because nuke construction projects are almost ideal conduits for graft. When a nuke plant construction project goes 400% over budget and 3x over schedule, do we get 400% more nuke plant? No, but every penny goes into somebody's pocket. The ratepayers invariably end up paying through the nose.

This is part of why small-scale factory-built nukes never found a foothold in the US. There just isn't the scope for wholly-legal corruption to generate the institutional support that big nukes got.

Why is a nuke plant an ideal conduit for graft versus any other government contractor project? Is there evidence for this?

True, many other government contractor projects have been effective graft vehicles. The F-35 jet and the SLS rocket are other, very current examples. People have begun to catch on about nuke plants; they started out as a scam to make the uranium economy more favorable for weapons work, and that has been baked in.

Notable recent exceptions include solar and wind farms, partly I expect because people can tell how much they should cost: N panels x $P per panel, N turbines x $P per turbine. Also, people doing them tend to be idealists; they want the most power out that money can buy, anywhere else if not here.

GOP has fallen a long way since Nixon('s policies), now they're out for a single party system controlled by them to the point of sending a mob after Congress. I miss the old GOP, I even voted for some of them in times past, now they are but a looming shadow on democracy.

>The thing that really pisses me off is that governments in the past worked SO HARD to argue that renewable energy could never work.

Nobody ever denied the fact that Hydro is viable. You're getting confused by the misleading title because you think that it's wind and solar that is powering Costa Rica .. it isn't. It's hydro.

What government would that be? Hydro has been a mainstay for 70+ years.

In this, possibly the best possible environment for it, it works 80% of the time.

Corporate lobbying

100% renewable...but not 100% green by the new standards. Hydro is only renewable for "low impact small sources". Considering a majority of their electricity is coming from hydro I would say it's not from "low impact small sources". Still a great feat though, but the bar keeps moving higher.

For global warming purposes, I'm personally okay with local ecological disruptions from hydro.

The reservoirs emit a lot of CO2 and methane. Not sure about that.

How much per watt is that "a lot" compared to others? Source?

A valid question for which I don't have an answer.

This is meaningless on a global scale.

Globally, we've added more mega watts of coal power for decades. Doesn't look like it is stopping anytime soon.


This is not meaningless. It is an important data-point. One that clearly proves it is possible. One that teaches what works and what not. Those data-points are crucial for other countries or political groups to be swayed and convinced.

It may be meaningless for global greenhouse-gas emission reduction in itself, true. But for "the movement" it is an important milestone.

While meaningless may not be the best choice of word, Costa Rica's success with hydro is borderline useless to the majority of the world that does not have geography for a dam.

Hydro energy works, what exactly is novel or meaningful about that?

the title here is 100% clickbait as it frames the situation as "renewables" work when the accurate claim is "hydro + a small population" works.

Meaningless because the lessons of Costa Rica do not apply in the largest carbon generating economies.

"That means the government did not burn any oil, coal, or natural gas to power the country."

This is a new low for HN to upvote such garbage, but at least they edited the headline which originally was:

"Costa Rica Has Run on 100% Renewable Energy for 299 Days".

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