Costa Rica has big plans. They’re one of a handful of countries that are making huge strides towards renewable power. Within 50 years, they plan on being completely and permanently carbon neutral. It’s not merely lip service, either–in March, the country announced that they’ve been running entirely on renewable electricity since 2015. So far this year, they’re at just over 150 days.
According to Nivela, a Costa Rican think tank that seeks to “challenge conventional wisdom on development,” since 1989, the majority of the country’s electricity has come from hydroelectric. Another 12% comes from geothermal plants, while around 2% comes from solar.
They’re not the only country to do it, either. According to Co.Exist, Costa Rica joins a small group of forward-thinking nations like Iceland and Albania that threw traditional forms of generating electricity out the window. On June 9th of 2014, Germany got half of its electricity demand from solar on a summer day, proving that, if the infrastructure was in in place, outdated methods like coal could be rendered obsolete.
It’s a difficult trend to break, though, especially in the United States where fossil fuels are king. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the country formerly known as the most powerful used coal, natural gas, and petroleum to generate nearly 70% of its electricity in 2015. Only 0.4% came from geothermal, 0.6% from solar, and just under 5% from wind, all of which, if systems were in place, are totally viable options.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to compare Costa Rica with the United States. Costa Rica is just under 20,000 square miles–about the size of West Virginia–while the U.S. is almost 4 million. The average household in Costa Rica uses much less energy, and while the U.S economy relies heavily on manufacturing–an industry notorious for its energy demands–Costa Rica depends on tourism and farming. Without getting into all the specifics, though, the United States simply uses way more electricity than Costa Rica. In 2011, every person in the U.S. used 13,246.27 kWh, while Costa Ricans only used 1,843.94 kWh per capita. Costa Rica’s use of hydro also comes with a caveat: because of the heavier than average rainfall, the hydroplants made more power. Geographically, it’s got an advantage, too. A higher concentration of rivers and volcanoes lend themselves to the battle for renewable energy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible in other countries like the United States or China. It merely means refocusing on ways to make it happen.
While it is a huge step in the right direction, there are a few parts of Costa Rica’s story that make the whole thing a little less utopian. “One hundred percent renewable” is a malleable term–in Costa Rica’s case, it only refers to electricity on the grid, and according to Big Think, the transportation system there makes up somewhere around 70% of energy consumption.
All of this is to say that while it might be extraordinarily difficult for a country like the United States to move away from fossil fuels entirely, Costa Rica has proved that it is indeed possible. They’re on the forefront of what needs to be a global effort to meet our ever-expanding demand for energy from renewable sources, and every other country needs to follow suit.