Costa Rica GREEN program: Day 3 (1/10/14)

Geothermal and solar plant tour

Steam turning a turbine. That’s all electricity is (save solar panels). Nuclear, Coal, Geothermal, Hydro, Natural Gas – all of them are just trying to turn the shaft of a generator. Complicated terms and theories and politics and engineering all come down to just that. At the foot of an active volcano on the Pacific Rim in Costa Rica, one way of producing that steam is just pushing water deep enough into the earth until it heats up and turns to steam.

Not to minimize what a feat of engineering this is. Miles upon miles of underground tunnels. Pipes holding huge pressures. Acres of land behind fences. Wells. Substations. Safety measures. But it’s clean. Or, cleaner.

Next door to the Geothermal plant were rows upon rows of solar panels producing a handful of megwatts of energy. Normally I am taken aback by how much area solar takes up to produce such small amounts of electricity. But here, in comparison with the Geothermal plant footprint, the solar panels looked like they took up a small parking lot. Still, our guide Frank informed us, this was just a proof of concept parking lot. A way to say ‘yah, we tried solar, it was too expensive.’ The panels weren’t producing even the same order of magnitude of energy as the geothermal plant across the street – at probably twice the cost per kWh.

Still. How cool do those panels look below the volcano? Generators, even ones producing clean energy, will never be that attractive in a photograph.

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