Category — Hydroelectricity
Costa Rica Follow-Up: Fatal Dependence on Renewable Electricity (Tom Friedman's energy paradise loses its luck)
“When an abundant natural fall of water is at hand, nothing can be cheaper or better than water power. But everything depends upon local circumstances. The occasional mountain torrent is simply destructive. Many streams and rivers only contain sufficient water half the year round and costly reservoirs alone could keep up the summer supply. In flat countries no engineering art could procure any considerable supply of natural water power, and in very few places do we find water power free from occasional failure by drought.”
- W. S. Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Co., 1865), p. 129.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times has presented Costa Rica as a model for the energy world, noting its reliance on renewable energy (hydro) to generate electricity. In response, we posted last week about how such dependence had left it vulnerable to the vagaries of rainfall, and (to a much lesser degree) wind. W. S. Jevons, the father of energy economics, said as much in 1865.
With all hydro development in the hands of the government, and with hydro responsible for 75-80% of power generation, any shortfall in rain can, within 1-2 weeks result in reduced electricity generation. And the odds have now caught up with Costa Rica – recent dryer conditions have led to blackouts in the country. [Read more →]
April 25, 2009 2 Comments
Costa Rica’s Energy Paradise: Comment on Tom Friedman (Not everywhere can be a playground for the rich)
In his recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman veritably gushes about the long-term commitment of Costa Rica to a clean environment and renewable energy. He is proud of the fact that renewables power 95 percent of the country’s economy. Such energy air-conditions resort hotels, charges golf carts, powers cable pulleys through the rain forest canopy, and bakes chips at the local Intel assembly plant.
Costa Rica’s energy mix is led by 75–80% hydropower, 12% geothermal, and 3%–5% oil (more specific statistics are here). The workhorse hydro is a mix of storage and run of river, with storage at about 50% of the 2,000 MW installed capacity. In a dry year, the run-of-the-river plants will not produce much, or very reliably, which brings up the risk of such reliance. In 2007 Costa Rica suffered power cuts as a result of drought and its lack of diversity in electricity generation. [Read more →]
April 15, 2009 13 Comments
W. S. Jevons in his early day recognized a central problem of windpower for powering machinery–intermittency. The wind does not always blow, and it cannot be known when this will occur, making an even flow of power (as from conventional sources) impossible short of cost-prohibitive battery backup.
What about the other renewables of the day: water power, biomass, and geothermal? [Read more →]
January 30, 2009 3 Comments
If only to cover their bases, environmentalists have from time to time been forthright about the problems of renewable energies. To his credit, John Holdren has punctuated his energy alarmism with a bit of energy realism in this regard. “There is no energy technology presently known or imagined (solar energy not excepted) with negligible environmental impact,” he said in a 1977 essay, “Energy Costs as Potential Limits to Growth” (Dennis Pirages, ed, The Sustainable Society: Implications for Limited Growth, p. 71). [Read more →]
January 10, 2009 3 Comments