Nicaragua is a Latin American country that may not produce oil, but luckily the abundance of natural and renewable energy resources doesn’t make it reliable on the environmentally damaging energy source.
The combination of hot volcanoes, blowing winds, roaring rivers and blazing sun makes Nicaragua a renewable energy paradise and a green energy powerhouse, according to NPR. In the next few years, most of Nicaragua’s electricity will come from hydroelectric dams, geothermal plants and wind farms.
Lake Nicaraguara, which takes up a large portion of the country, is home to the biggest wind farm in Nicaragua. Javier Pentzke, manager of the Amayo wind farm, says this area of the world is one of the best to harness wind energy.
“You have all the opening here from the lake all the way to the Caribbean, so it’s like a tunnel,” he says. “And it’s very steady. It’s not too gusty.”
The wind is also perfect for rotating the three-bladed props on the dozens of wind turbines that rise up from the western shore of the lake.
This is a welcome change from only a few years ago. Back then, Nicaragua depended almost entirely on imported fuel oil to generate power and yet they had no thermal plants to turn fuel oil into electricity. 12-hour blackouts were common around the country and citizens had a hard time maintaining normal life without consistent electricity.
Silverio Martinez is the owner of a general store in the farm town of San Jacinto. He says the power outages wreaked havoc on the daily life of him, his family and their neighbors. The town’s water pumps ceased working and the local mill couldn’t grind corn, so his wife couldn’t make tortillas. Carpenters couldnt do their jobs either because power tools need, well, power.
Fortunately for Martinez, one of the 19 volcanoes in Nicaragua is just a few miles from his store. These volcanoes have a tremendous potential for storing underground heat and in 2005, the government finally realized that and decided to harness all that natural energy.
“The decision was made that we had to begin shifting towards renewable energy,” says Gabriel Sánchez, who works for the business promotion agency ProNicaragua. “A set of policies was put in place that would allow renewable energy projects to be developed in Nicaragua.”
Now energy companies get to enjoy tax breaks in a stable country not wreaked by revolution, civil war and economic chaos.
One firm, Nevada-based Ram Power, has spent more than $400 million on the Polaris geothermal plant located next to Telíca volcano.
“We try to locate where a hot rock resource is, which is usually about 5 to 7 kilometers below the earth’s crust,” says Antonio Duarte, the plant’s manager.
The molten rock heats underground water, which then is brought to the surface and the resulting steam is fed into turbines to produce electricity.
Not only has Nicaraguas ecologically move reduced carbon emissions, it has also made the country less dependent on foreign oil.
“The petroleum bill on an annual basis is a significant amount of our GDP, so by changing the energy matrix we’re generating power from our own resources and not being held ransom on the fluctuations of the market,” Duarte says.
Renewables now generate nearly half of Nicaragua’s electricity and government officials predict that could rise to 80% within the few years. The U.S. is slacking at 13%.
Nicaragua may even go beyond that. There is so much untapped energy in Nicaragua that in a few years it could be possible to export electricity to its Central American neighbors.