Costa Rica achieved 99 percent renewable electricity generation in 2015

For 285 days in 2015, Costa Rica managed to power its grid on 100 percent renewable sources, making it one of a few countries in the world to eschew fossil fuels in energy generation.

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Three-quarters of Costa Rica's electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants, taking advantage of the country's abundant river system and heavy tropical rainfalls. The rest comes from geothermal, wind, biomass and solar sources. 

Costa Rica has achieved 99 percent renewable energy use this year, showing the rest of the world that it’s truly possible to use sustainable and readily available energy sources if they make a commitment to living an on-going, sustainable way of being.

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The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) said that even though 2015 was a very dry year, Costa Rica was still ahead of its renewable energy targets and aims of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.  It’s aim for the future is not only to hit 100% renewable energy but to clean up energy consumption in general, such as moving the transportation sector away from fossil fuels and becoming less dependent on hydropower. It could do this by adding more geothermal energy plants and harnessing energy from other sources.

Cleaning up what’s in the ocean

Cleaning up millions of pounds of trash, mostly plastic, which have created an oceanic desert where only tiny phytoplankton can survive, is extremely critical. At least one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution. This so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” has a horrendous environmental, economic and public health impact. The global impacts of this waste are estimated at roughly $13 trillion.  Ocean plastic does not disappear by itself so it has to be cleaned up. 

A Dutch startup called 'The Ocean Cleanup' developed the first feasible method to clean up world’s ocean garbage patches. They will begin next year to passively collect plastic debris in the waters specifically focusing on the North Pacific accumulation zone - also known as ‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ (between Japan and South Korea, near the island group of Tsushima).

They proposed to deploy a very long array of floating barriers attached to the seabed. This would act as an artificial coastline, allowing the ocean to clean itself. 'The Ocean Cleanup' aims to deploy the first pilot system in 2016, and hopes to be able to start cleaning the North Pacific by 2020. Read More

Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

The system will act as a barrier, trapping floating debris and allowing ships to pick it up using a conveyor belt 7,900 times faster than current methods, and at just 3 percent of the current cost. If deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for 10 years, the company says it could remove 42 percent of the trash, at a cost of around $5 a kilo. 

"By cleaning up what is out there right now, we also prevent the creation of more microplastics. Over time, in a process called photodegradation, UV radiation causes large plastic objects to fragment into ever smaller pieces. Not only are smaller pieces harder to extract, but they are also more harmful than large objects due to bioavailability to the small creatures that form the base of the marine food web. Small pieces are being consumed by fish and birds, and may thereby transport toxic persistent chemicals into the food chain (which includes us humans)." ..... from 'The Ocean Cleanup'
Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Renewable energy investment

Uruguay makes a dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy. The country is defining global trends in renewable energy investment.

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs. They have added Biomass and Solar power to their existing hydropower. The country relies on a mixture of energy resources including wind turbines, solar power, hydropower, and biomass. .....  this means that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix (including transport fuel) compared with a global average share of 12%. 

Renewables provide 95% of the country’s electricity, and prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

According to Ramón Méndez, Uruguay’s head of climate policy - the key to success is rather dull but encouragingly replicable: clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.“What we’ve learned is that renewables is just a financial business,” Méndez says. “The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.”

Méndez further attributes Uruguay’s success to the fact that investors have discovered clean energy makes good business sense. Uruguay’s state utility guarantees fixed energy prices for 20 years, which has encouraged foreign companies like the German wind power firm Enercon to build plants.  Read More

Multi-species 3-D ocean farms

In recent years, scientists and entrepreneurs have been working on ways to create a more sustainable food system. GreenWave, on Long Island, has accomplished that by setting up "multi-species 3-D ocean farms" growing seaweed, scallops, mussels, clams, and oysters. 

The vertical seaweed gardens are designed to provide an alternative for communities that can no longer rely on fishing.  Seaweed farms have the capacity to grow huge amounts of nutrient-rich food, and oysters can act as an efficient carbon and nitrogen sink.

GreenWave is a winner of the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Institute prize for the project “world’s first multi-species 3-D ocean farm,” a vertical underwater garden that aims “to restore ocean ecosystems and create jobs in coastal communities by transforming fishers into restorative ocean farmers. The sustainable underwater farms may offer a new source of income for fishermen who can no longer rely on fishing. Read More>

A drawing of Greenwave’s 3D Ocean Farming system / Greenwave

A drawing of Greenwave’s 3D Ocean Farming system / Greenwave

Instead of monolithic factory fish farms, GreenWave see the oceans as the home of small-scale farms where complementary species are cultivated to provide food and fuel -- and to clean up the environment and fight climate change. Smith believes seaweed is a viable alternative because it is healthy and sustainable. Instead of harming the ocean, seaweed farms actually help to pull pollution out of the water. In short, seaweed gardens can actually remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the ocean.

Governed by an ethic of sustainability, they are re-imagining our oceans with the hope of saving us from the grip of the ever-escalating climate, energy, and food crises.