WB 2015 – MSU Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 26, 2015 – January 9, 2016

Dec. 29 – Alex

Tuesday, December 29th: Tilaran and Arenal

To start the day the group will be touring the ICE facilities (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad). Here we will be learning about the life cycle of energy systems, and more specifically about how ICE is supplying energy to the people of Costa Rica through hydroelectric power as well as wind power. For some background about ICE, they  were started in 1948 after the Costa Rican civil war to help combat energy shortage problems the country once faced.   Currently the company produces about 2000 mega watts which is roughly 79% of the total energy production of Costa rica (Electricidad, ICE).

Hydroelectric Power:

(The hydroelectric system at Arenal)

Looking specifically at hydroelectric power we can see that this plays a major role in the total energy production in Costa Rica. In total hydroelectric power account for about 78% of the total energy produced by ICE (Information from Herman at Arenal). The first hydroelectric dam constructed in Costa Rica is the Cachi arch dam. This plant uses the tradition system of using gravity and water to turn turbines to generate energy. The dam is feed water from the man made reservoir called lake Cachi. This dam not only provides a means of power generation but also flood control and a source of drinking water as well. This system uses three turbines to produce 34 MW of power each which is then feed into the main power grid (Lake Cachi, Wikipedia). The hydroelectric dams we will be visiting tomorrow are  arenal, corobici and sandillal. These three combined dams produce most of the hydroelectric power in Costa Rica and a very efficient in the way they produce power. These dams are connected in series going from Arenal to Corobici and finally to Sandillal. The first hydroelectric dam, Arenal uses three hydroelectric power generators each producing 52.4 MW of power. The second hydro plant also utilizes three generators producing 58 MW. The last and smallest hydroelectric plant uses only two generators to produce 15.96 MW each (Estudio de factibilidad Modernización Arenal, Groupo ICE). Even though the hydroelectric power in Costa Rica is considered “sustainable” it can also have its draw backs. In the case of the Arenal, the construction of the dam displaced many families from the area however ICE did pay to relocate these people. Another issue that can arise from introducing dams is the potential of disrupting wildlife such as fish populations which can hinder the flow of there migration (Salmon of the west, U.S. fish and wildlife). A diagram of how hydroelectric power is generated can be seen below in figure 1.1.

(Figure 1.1 how power is generated from hydro electric dams)


The class learning at Arenal hydroelectric dam

Wind Power:

wind yo

(Wind turbines visited)

ICE also is invested in power generated though the use of wind turbines. Currently wind power accounts for an amazing 7% of the total power produced by ICE (costa rica to double wind power generations in coming years, L. Arais). Many of these wind turbines are located in Tilaran and were actually visible from the road on the ride into the hotel. ICE’s wind turbine project in Tilaran has about 33 wind turbines in the 16 hector area. These wind turbines produce about 20 MW with a cost of about $250,000 each (Parque eolico de chiripa en tilaran, Diego Bosque). However a major flaw in the design in the first wind turbines in this location is that they are not able to rotate to better capture the wind thus losing out on potential power production. Another drawback of wind energy being debated is the possible interruption to flying animals such as birds that wind turbines can have (disadvantages of wind power, Washington DNR). The way that these turbines work can be seen below in figure 2.1.

wind turbine

(Figure 2.1 power cycle from wind generation)

2015-12-29 16.33.02

To finish the day, the group will be traveling to Eduardo’s home for BBQ and to discuss what we have observed and learned from the day. We will also be doing a little dancing with the help of Juan Pablo.


The class learning some dance moves over dinner



  • Diego Bosque, 12/15/2015, Parque eolico de chiripa en tilaran
  • Groupo ICE, 12/29/2015, Estudio de factibilidad Modernización Arenal
  • Groupo ICE, 12/4/2015, Electricidad
  • L. Arias, 11/17/2015, Costa Rica to double wind power generation in coming years
  • U.S. fish and wildlife services, 12/29/2015, Salmon of the west
  • Washington DNR, 12/29/2015, Disadvantages of wind power
  • Wikipedia, 10/6/2015, Lake Cachi

10 thoughts on “Dec. 29 – Alex

  1. What are some of the disadvantages of hydro and wind?


    • Hydro power can disrupt natural ecosystems and displace the people living in areas where dams are constructed. It can negatively impact migrating fish like salmon, and, as was the case with Lake Arenal, homes and businesses must be completely uprooted to allow the construction of artificial lakes.


    • Other issues that have not been mentioned with these types of energy are storage and availability. In general, it may be a challenge to store energy from hydroelectric power in the grid to use at another time of year. However, at the ICE facilities, we learned that they are able to store lots of water in the lakes/reservoirs to be used to operate the hydroelectric plants during the dry season. Hydroelectricity in the United States is sometimes stored in reservoirs that require pumping to use the water. According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are 38 pumped hydroelectric facilities in the US capable of doing this, and they only store 2% of the country’s energy capacity (1). Concerning wind, energy from turbines is currently not able to be stored in the grid for future use. Some experts believe this is not necessarily a disadvantage because the economic investment to do so would not be worth the added benefit. (2)

      In some areas, water and wind are not available, putting an emphasis on heavily utilizing these resources where they are prevalent. The systems we studied did not seem to have issues with availability. Since Lake Arenal receives water from three separate rivers, there is usually a pretty steady rate of water input during the wet season, which can help compensate for the deficit of water in the dry season. The wind turbines are located in an area that has an incredible amount of wind (we can attest) and the rest of the land seems to be used for ranching cattle and horses and not much else given the elevation and terrain. If the wind is unsteady in this area, like it can be in some areas of the United States, it would make the turbines less useful as a consistent source of energy.

      (1)Energy Storage Association. (2015). Pumped Hydroelectric Storage. Retrieved 2015, from http://energystorage.org/energy-storage/technologies/pumped-hydroelectric-storage
      (2) American Wind Energy Association. (2015). Wind energy and storage. Retrieved 2015, from http://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5452


    • Some of the disadvantages of eolic energy are:
      – Required strong and constantly winds on the zone.
      – It is a problem for bird ecosystems.
      – Don’t contemplate the holes of energy, so require of another fount of energy like geothermal.
      An interesting situación is that in some countries, the windmills are noisy and can disturb the landscape, and that can be annoying for some people; but in Costa Rica, that isn’t a problem because people like it.


  2. Many people complain about scenery being, “destroyed,” when wind turbines are installed. There have been many intriguing legal battles between landowners and municipalities concerning this issue.


  3. I have gone ahead and updated the web page and have added advantages and disadvantages to both wind turbines and hydroelectric power. Another thing to add about wind turbines is that they can be very loud as the group has heard which can upset people living near them


    • I look forward to seeing some more photographs of our visits to the wind and hydroelectric sites! (Don’t forget to change verb text as well).


  4. The Tempisque River, which we visited while at Palo Verde, is down-watershed of where we visited hydroelectric dams. How do these dams affect the River and its ecosystem? How does the dam management affect the Palo Verde wetlands?


    • Before really looking into this specific topic future, my immediate response to this is that it will effect the flow rate of the water and the aquatic life of both the plants and animals downstream. As Emily also referenced above, the fish are in danger of dying due to the turbines but also due to the change in the way that their ecosystem is plants are also majorly effected down stream. The hydroelectric dams are in control of the amount of water that flows and when, leaving plants in a situation where they need to adapt to a less stable and consistent environment.

      These hydroelectric dams are also effecting the quantity and quality nutrients that reach downstream. From an article by the union of concerned scientist it is noted that resiviours are seeing a lack of oxygen and they have a lower tempeture. These can both directly effect the downstream ecosystem. This is a problem with a potential solution. They do make specific turbines to counter the oxygen lacking and the colder water.

      It was very important to recognize the impact on the animal and plants, but it was effecting these organisms in more then one way. The hydroelectric dams are producing a greater impact on the ecosystem as a whole and that would be better observed with a larger scope when developing an system.

      Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2016, from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power.html#.Voj56d5b2K1


  5. After thinking about the process for evaluating the effectiveness of the system it rally looks like here are three main aspects; social, economic, and environmental. We talked about culture but what would Costa Rica specifically prioritize about these aspects?


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