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Sustainable Energy in Costa Rica

Guayabo! What a welcoming sight as the Global Navigators navigated their way from Isla Chira toward the realm of wind and sun and volcanoes! They were continuing their study of sustainability, but were now transitioning from the sustainable practices of the island community to the complicated and controversial world of sustainable energy. While they had spent the last week exploring how Chira Island structures its practices to provide for its small population, now the Navigators faced a bigger question: What happens when we extend these same questions to an entire country of people?

Their first stop came on their way into Guayabo, as they met with ICE (the institute of Costa Rican energy) officials to learn about two of the three major forms of Costa Rican energy production: solar and geothermal. 

IMG_3581Instructor Priscilla is teaching the students about Geothermal energy; she and Jennie must shop at the same shirt store...  

IMG_3595Anna and Hailey really like their sweet new hats 


A group photo in front of the solar panels in front of the volcano 

IMG_3661Learning is pretty okay when you get to do it right beside a volcano

 The next morning, the Navigators delved more deeply into the four types of Costa Rican energy they would study in Guayabo: Solar, Geothermal, Wind, and Hydro. They split into groups, and each designed a poster about one of these forms, which they then presented to their classmates. By the end of poster-time, everyone was an expert in renewable energy, ready to test ICE with some real tricky questions.

IMG_3687Julie, Cajmir, and Edward are working hard on their poster  

IMG_3712Edward does his best not to be distracted by some sort of weird dance that Julie and Grace have come up with 

IMG_3755Posters are the best way to learn about geothermal energy 

 Now that they were experts, the Navigators decided to put their new knowledge to the test by constructing their own solar ovens. In order to be certain whether or not they worked, the Navigators decided that they had better put S'more materials inside. It was for learning.

IMG_3808Anna is waiting for the exact right moment to try to steal the s'more from Michael's solar oven

IMG_3824This is the problem with solar cookers: birds love s'mores

"But that's not enough!" the students cried. "We demand to test more forms of renewable energy!" Hoping to avoid a mutiny, their instructors quickly handed over the Wind Turbine Construction Sets they had luckily brought along. The Navigators worked together again, to construct models of the turbines they would visit later in the day, in order to better understand their inner workings.


Joe was an expert at miniature wind turbine building; the group discussed how to make him gigantic-sized so that he could build the full-sized ones 


Joe and Dennis test their wind turbines at the wind farm while Callie, Kayla, and Cindy offer moral support  

IMG_3937Wind turbines take teamwork 

IMG_3955Dennis took one for the team and sacrificed the top of his head as a wind turbine site

IMG_3958Grace and Julie are pretty proud of their awesome work 

"What's the big deal about renewable energy?" the Navigators asked. "Our turbines work great! Our solar ovens worked great!" (Well, the solar ovens were kind of a wash because it was cloudy and there were birds around who also liked s'mores... but the theory was the important part.) "Not so fast," their instructors said. "Now let's talk about the problems with these energy forms."

Their instructors explained the difficulties with each form of sustainable energy-- how solar has a storage issue, and doesn't work as well when it's overcast; how wind turbines are accused of being unsightly and loud, and are difficult to transport and assemble.

"Well okay," the Navigators said. "But how about geothermal? Surely there are no controversies there!"

Oh, you silly Navigators. To help them understand the issues with geothermal power, their instructors took the Navigators to Rincon de la Vieja national park, on the slopes of the powerful volcano, an area bubbling with the earth's geothermal power.


The Program Leaders kept saying, "Remember everyone, it's not a hot tub, it's not a hot tub..."


Joe took a break from all the global navigating to make friends with this butterfly

A quick reflection break in nature's classroom 

  IMG_4108The global navigators navigated their way to a waterfall

 Only after they had explored the beauty of the park did their instructors reveal the reason for their visit-- that a proposed geothermal plant could significantly alter the incredible natural beauty and biodiversity that they had just explored. Energy-- even sustainable energy-- comes at a cost, the Navigators were learning.

"Okay okay," the Navigators said. "So geothermal means some tough decisions. Hydro must be better, right?"

Oh you'll see, Global Navigators. But first, let's wash away the perplexing choices of energy in a secret swimming hole.

IMG_4138This secret swimming hole may have been the fountain of youth... only time will tell...

 The next day, the Navigators set off for Lake Arenal, at the foot of the Arenal volcano. Arenal was once an entire community, but was evacuated and flooded in order to create the Arenal reservoir to feed the hydroelectric dam. As they enjoyed their surprisingly fun ride on a catamaran across the lake, the Navigators pondered the cost of hydro power.

 Cajmir was saying, "Come at me, crocodiles!" 


The Titanic thing was inevitable 

IMG_4231Luke and Dennis refused to be left out of the fun

The Navigators had now explored the four major types of sustainable energy used to power Costa Rica-- and had pondered the costs that accompany each. Sustainable energy is a question of balance-- what are you willing to sacrifice in order to escape fossil fuels? Your view of the horizon? An area full of so much biodiversity that it was deemed a national park? Your own community? There are no easy answers, the Navigators learned-- they would have to wrestle with these questions over the remaining week of their program, and likely for years afterward.

Now, the Navigators turn to Monteverde, the Mountain in the Clouds, to learn about the conservation work being done to preserve its vitally important ecosystems and to complete the third module of their course. What gems will they find hidden in the thick forests? Will they be visited by the Resplendent visage of the Quetzal? Will the water in the showers finally be warm? 

Tune in again soon to learn about the final days of the journey of the Global Navigators.

More soon,


Words by Kyle Ritland

Photos by Trevor Ritland


A postcard from the volcano