This past winter while Toronto experienced a power blackout due to a major ice storm, I discovered ICE in Costa Rica. Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) is Costa Rica’s hydro-electric company.

Geothermal station near volcano in Costa Rica.Three volcanoes dominate the landscape  in the northern region of Guanacaste – Tenorio, Miravalles, and Rincón de la Vieja. The Miravalles Protected Area I visited is known for its hot springs, horse and cattle ranches and farms. A snaking system of big metal pipes filled with steam run through the countryside, along dirt roads, towards the main energy production plant. This power station is a geothermal plant that recovers and distributes energy generated and stored in the earth.

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According to the United Nations University website,  in 2010 low income countries were among the most active producers of renewable geothermal energy in the world. “The 14 countries with the highest percentage share of geothermal energy in their national electricity production are: Iceland, El Salvador, Kenya, Philippines, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Guadeloupe (France), Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Italy, USA, Japan.”Sign to geothermal plant in Costa Rica.

The website goes on to say that “Geothermal power stations provide about 12 percent of the total electricity generation of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, with potential for harnessing much more.”

Bird in Costa Rica.

Where does Canada rank in the scheme of worldwide geothermal energy? Nowhere. Despite good potential Canada does not have one geothermal production plant.

Toronto uses deep lake water to cool city buildings during the summer. Individual buildings like the Artscape Wychwood Barns use a geothermal heating system. Builders and homeowners are slowly coming on board but we do not have a production plant.

Costa Rica has three new geothermal plants  in the works and has set a goal of providing 95% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2014.

Geothermal power requires more money up front, but saves money in the long run. The I.E.A. (International Energy Agency) World Energy Outlook 2012 Report  notes that “fossil fuels remain dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies that amounted to $523 billion in 2011, up almost 30% in 2010 and six times more than subsidies to renewables.” It predicts that by 2035 renewable energy will account for one third of the world’s electricity output.Geothermal pipe and electrical installation.

Top five reasons why geothermal power is nowhere in Canada.

Interesting geothermal heated buildings around the world.

What the Government of Ontario offers.

What the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association says.

– Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Elizabeth Cinello

This article is part of our POWER issue.
More on Costa Rica.


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