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Green Water for Green Energy
This week, I am in Costa Rica to blog about "Earth Day" which officially is this Wednesday, April 22.
"These days, visitors can still see amazing biodiversity all over Costa Rica — more than 25 percent of the country is protected area — thanks to a unique system it set up to preserve its cornucopia of plants and animals. Many countries could learn a lot from this system.
More than any nation I’ve ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together. It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted. So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth. You have to pay for using nature. It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.
The process began in the 1990s when Costa Rica, which sits at the intersection of two continents and two oceans, came to fully appreciate its incredible bounty of biodiversity — and that its economic future lay in protecting it. So it did something no country has ever done: It put energy, environment, mines and water all under one minister.
“In Costa Rica, the minister of environment sets the policy for energy, mines, water and natural resources,” explained Carlos M. Rodríguez, who served in that post from 2002 to 2006. In most countries, he noted, “ministers of environment are marginalized.” They are viewed as people who try to lock things away, not as people who create value. Their job is to fight energy ministers who just want to drill for cheap oil.
But when Costa Rica put one minister in charge of energy and environment, “it created a very different way of thinking about how to solve problems,” said Rodríguez, now a regional vice president for Conservation International. “The environment sector was able to influence the energy choices by saying: ‘Look, if you want cheap energy, the cheapest energy in the long-run is renewable energy. So let’s not think just about the next six months; let’s think out 25 years.’ ”
As a result, Costa Rica hugely invested in hydro-electric power, wind and geo-thermal, and today it gets more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables. In 1985, it was 50 percent hydro, 50 percent oil. More interesting, Costa Rica discovered its own oil five years ago but decided to ban drilling — so as not to pollute its politics or environment! What country bans oil drilling?
Rodríguez also helped to pioneer the idea that in a country like Costa Rica, dependent on tourism and agriculture, the services provided by ecosystems were important drivers of growth and had to be paid for. Right now, most countries fail to account for the “externalities” of various economic activities. So when a factory, farmer or power plant pollutes the air or the river, destroys a wetland, depletes a fish stock or silts a river — making the water no longer usable — that cost is never added to your electric bill or to the price of your shoes.
Costa Rica took the view that landowners who keep their forests intact and their rivers clean should be paid, because the forests maintained the watersheds and kept the rivers free of silt — and that benefited dam owners, fishermen, farmers and eco-tour companies downstream. The forests also absorbed carbon."
I start my visit at Arenal, where there is a hydro-electric dam at Lake Arenal that produces electricity, a large volcano, and natural hot springs.I found [more stats on Costa Rica's energy consumption] that provide more details.
At left is a photo I took of the Volcano Arenal. This is just one of the 112 volcanoes in thecountry.
At the [Springs Resort and Spa], they have clear (chlorinated) swimming pools maintained at three different temperatures. I asked our guide,Alan, if the pools were being heated from the electricity generated from the dam at the lake.No, they use green water for green energy. Taking advantage of "geo-thermal" energy, the natural hot springs are run through a [Heat Exchanger], to heat the pools. The waters do not mix, keeping the clean water clean. The process is similar to IBM's [Rear Door Heat eXchanger].
Why don't people just soak directly in the green water directly? Alan responded, "You can certainly enjoy soaking in the green water, but I recommend you buy some storage, which will cost you extra, as a souvenir."
The storage, shown here at right, holds cash and credit cards with a water-tight seal. Normal pool water won'teffect cash or credit cards, and I have certainly seen people pay for food and drinks with soggy dollars in other places. This water is literally green, and perhaps not for everyone. How green is it? Think watered-down version of [split-pea soup] and you will have a close approximation.I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but am going to need some industrial-strength scum-and-lime remover to clean the glass face of my waterproof watch when I get back home.
Fortunately, I speak the Castellano dialect of Spanish that is spoken here in Costa Rica,and this will allow me to continue to gather more information about how Costa Rica leads the way in being more energy efficient and environmentally responsible.