Since December 2022, technicians from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) detected a decrease in reservoirs, the large bodies of water that are available in their hydroelectric plants to produce energy when the rains stop and the flows decrease.
At that time, the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño, which causes a decrease in rainfall, had not fully consolidated in the territory. This occurred until June and since then the drop in precipitation has been even more marked.
As a result, river flows and hydroelectric energy production decrease. The level of the reservoirs is also lower, so there is less accumulated water to spin the machines that produce electricity in the plants.Hydroelectric energy, as well as wind (wind power) and geothermal energy are considered clean sources, since the burning of fuel is not required for production.
And during the last eight years (until 2022) Costa Rica managed to produce more than 98% of its energy from these sources, which makes it an example country and world leader in the matter. The same ICE Electricity Manager, Roberto Quirós, recognizes that in some countries ambitious goals of 60% have been set.
But the effects of El Niño and Costa Rica’s inability to grow its renewable matrix in recent years will cause that percentage to drop to 95% by 2023 and a year later it will drop to 93%.
In the summer of 2025, the country will still need to turn on thermal plants to supply homes and businesses, but it is expected that with the winter of that year the lack of rain will be reversed. Flows and reservoir levels would be recovered.
Quirós says that despite the reduction in that percentage, 93% is still an “excellent result.” However, he considers that this reduction is a sign that the matrix can still be improved and that during the last four years there was no investment in new or better renewable energy sources.During the current climate phenomenon there is also variability in the wind, which decreases production in wind plants.
Garabito plant lights up
In order to supply national demand in 2023, ICE has had to turn on the thermal plant located in Garabito de Puntarenas. It is one of the most modern in Central America, not only because of its reduced environmental impact but also because it is one of the most efficient.
During the last few years, the thermal plants in Costa Rica such as Orotina, Guápiles and Moín have been practically “turned off”, their operation is “almost non-existent”. Quirós calls it “in cold reserve”, according to technical language.
With Garabito’s it happens differently. The entire year is waiting for orders to enter into operation because in the National Electric System (SEN) different events could reduce renewable production. Among them problems in the reservoirs or a wind plant going out of operation.
“It is one of the most efficient plants in Central America and in the event of any variation, Garabito can contribute to the system,” the Electricity manager commented.
About 70 people work at this plant. When it is not producing electricity it is under constant maintenance, it could also be performing other functions that are not necessarily energy production.The installed production capacity of all the gear brought from Germany and operating since 2010 is 200 megawatts. The national demand is 1,754 megabytes.
According to the general manager, this year up to 15% of the energy consumed daily comes from non-renewable sources, or is imported from the Regional Electricity Market (MER), which also reduces the percentage of renewability.