Mormann on Costa Rica's Fossil-Fuel-Free Future

May 18, 2018

Professor Felix Mormann joined Knowledge@Wharton’s host Dan Loney to discuss renewable energy and the low-carbon future in Costa Rica and beyond.

Felix MormannFelix Mormann, Texas A&M School of Law Associate Professor

In an insightful interview on SiriusXM Business Radio's Knowledge@Wharton ​program on May 15, Associate Professor Felix Mormann examined Costa Rica’s 99% renewably-powered electricity sector, the country’s plans for decarbonization of their transport sector and how other countries in the region and beyond may follow the Costa Rican example.

Drawing on his research on international clean energy policies, Mormann commented on Costa Rica’s impressive accomplishment of powering over 99% of its electricity consumption with renewable resources and what it means to renewable energy campaigns elsewhere.

Costa Rica wind turbinesCosta Rica utilizes renewable energy resources -- wind, as well as hydroelectric, geothermal and solar -- to "fuel" over 99% of its electricity consumption

Last year, the small Central American country was able to “keep the lights on” for 100 consecutive days using only renewables. Not every country can call on abundant hydroelectric resources fueled by Caribbean rainfall, but Costa Rica also harnesses geothermal and wind energy from the country’s volcanic and coastal regions.

Mormann noted that critics decry the cost of Costa Rica’s shift to a cleaner energy economy and, indeed, its local electricity rates are among the highest in the world, suggesting inefficiencies associated with the lack of a competitive electricity market.

Still, the Costa Rican experience should silence skeptics who question whether electric grids can operate reliably without nuclear, coal and other fossil fuels.

Mormann caution​ed that Costa Rica's utilization of non-fossil fuels doesn't necessarily serve as a ​blueprint for success, as transitioning to renewable energy is not a "one-size-fits-all" proposition.

Costa Rica hydroelectric damCosta Rica's abundant rainfall has led to well-developed hydroelectric resources, supplying about 78% of the nation's power

“I think every country in the world has some form of renewable resource endowment. It's just about identifying what your local strengths are,” s​aid Mormann. “This is what makes this area so fun to work in -- that every country is different. ... Every country has different resources to work with. It's just about trying to harness them.”

Knowledge@Wharton’s host Dan Loney also discussed Costa Rica’s plans to electrify and decarbonize its transport sector. On this topic, Mormann was less bullish noting the daunting scope of the necessary investment in electric vehicles, charging stations and other infrastructure.

Mormann suggested that better public transport options might be a more efficient approach, at least in the near term, to reduce the transport sector’s overall carbon footprint and alleviate congestion issues in San Jose, Costa Rica’s overcrowded capital.

Mormann noted that the shift to relying on renewable energy sources is a boon not only for the environment, but also for business, jobs and the economy.

“So part of what I like about the Costa Rican story is, it is about environmental benefit, but not solely. It's also about basic economics. And that's the beauty of it,” sa​id Mormann.

Listen to the Knowledge@Wharton interview

Download a transcript of Felix Mormann's Knowledge@Wharton SiriusXM Business Radio interview [pdf].

About Knowledge@Wharton (from their website):
Knowledge@Wharton is a daily, call-in business interview program, broadcasting live from The Wharton School's historic Ivy League campus. Host Dan Loney goes behind the headlines with world-renowned Wharton professors, distinguished alumni and expert guests. Listen to Knowledge@Wharton Monday through Friday, 10a-12p, EST on SiriusXM channel 111.