On December 30th we were located in Tilaran, at Hotel Guadalupe.
Tilaran was a nice town located next to Lake Arenal, and the Arenal Volcano. This town lies over 500 meters above sea level, so the weather was very mild and comfortable (Source 2).
We toured Grupo ICE, which is the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. ICE was formally established in 1949 after a group of electrical and civil engineers presented a document named the “General Plan of Electrification of Costa Rica” to the National Bank. This initiative was the first step towards ICE becoming a key energy producer and electrical network for Costa Rica. (Source 1) Now, their mission is to satisfy the needs of customers as an innovator of solutions for both telecommunications and electricity. They aim to stay the main producer of electricity that is environmentally safe as they center their company around alternative energy sources.
Our day began at ICE (the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity). We started with a classroom session where we learned about how Costa Rica utilizes hydropower- and they are very successful! About 80% of the energy for electricity in CR is provided by hydropower; this is a huge part of their efforts to be carbon neutral. ICE has three hydro plants spread across Guanacaste, connected by the flowing water powering the plants (in pipes 5 feet in diameter!) The site was very impressive, with three huge turbines connected to generators utilizing the water flowing in at 100 m3/s (Source 3).
The source of water for the three plants is Lake Arenal. This is an artificial lake, create by ICE to capture rainfall in the mountainous area containing the Arenal Volcano. This lake allows them to capture and move water towards the Pacific side of the country that would naturally flow towards the Atlantic. Another interested fact about this lake is that it lies over multiple old towns. Because this location was prime, they made the decision to move the towns in this area out of the way for the lake, and to this day when the water level is low you can see remains of the towns below the water. This aspect of these hydro plants is somewhat controversial, as it upset the life of both people and surrounding wildlife alike. Hydropower also can have negative affects on the ecosystems of the rivers and lakes the water is released into after use (Source 5). These things must be factored in when weighing the pro’s and con’s for this type of energy.
After learning about the history of the lake and details about the three hydro-plants, we went to tour the indoor area of the plant. The first level down housed the generator, the second level down contained the shaft connecting the generator to the turbines which is on the third level down.
Then we went outside where we saw the reservoir where the water flowed to after exiting the turbines. We were even lucky enough that ICE opened the bypass route for the water, which allowed us to see just how powerful the flow really was first hand.
After this, we traveled to the third of the three ICE hydro plants. This location is special because it is near farmland where the water is used for irrigating the crops (Source 4). This is an example of good Ecological Engineering because it takes advantage of water the environment in Costa Rica already had to offer (through mass amounts of precipitation), and manipulates it through engineering and technology so water that would naturally go to the Atlantic side of the country now goes to the Pacific side. Then it is utilized to create massive amounts of energy along with providing water to an area that needs it to produce crops for the country, which solves two important social needs. This is a very good example of not letting resources go to waste!
On our way back to the Hotel, we took a detour to see some of the wind turbines that Costa Rica and ICE also utilizes to produce energy (currently about 3.5% of countries usage.) We took a long, winding road to the most windy, and arguably one of the most beautiful views in Costa Rica. This is another good example of ecological engineering as they input technology (wind turbine farms) to take advantage of what nature already had to offer in this area with extreme winds. In fact, wind 10m above ground in an open area like this can be calculated as approximately 145 km/h! (Source 6)
It was interesting to reflect on the types energy Costa Rica uses, because they have such vast resources available to them in the land. In Michigan, for example, we do not have the wind speeds to generate as substantial amounts of energy. We also do not have the mountainous regions like Costa Rica does. They have done a remarkable job utilizing their natural resources, and it’s unfortunate that this is not possible in all areas of the world.
On the way back down the mountains, we stopped at a small street seller that had beautiful pieces of art, and many of us bought souvenirs!
To end the evening, we had a fun dinner at Ronald’s friend’s house. We all pitched in to help cook a delicious meal, and then finished the night off learning how to salsa dance from the Costa Ricans. We really got a taste of their lively culture! It was a long, educational and fun filled day.
- ICE website – http://www.grupoice.com/wps/portal/ (In spanish)
- Tilaran Info – http://www.govisitcostarica.com/region/city.asp?cID=63
- Additional Info on Hydro power – http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/tech/hydropower
- Additional Info on Wind Energy – http://cleantechnica.com/world-wind-power/
- Curent Events related to Costa Rica Energy – http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/search?q1=content_en_le:%22hydroelectric+projects%22&q2=mattersInCountry_es_le:%22Costa+Rica%22
- Stats on Costa Rica Wind Energy Production – http://www.thewindpower.net/country_en_29_costa-rica.php
- Plant Tour; ICE Location 1
- Plant Tour; ICE Location 3