Tag Archives: developing world

Preserving biological diversity in Costa Rica

We just returned from a trip to Costa Rica, including the cloud forest in Monteverde. We even got to see the wonderful Quetzal (see above) and hear the Three-wattled bellbird. That region is increasingly dependent on eco-tourism to support it biological reserves. Most of those are privately owned, with the national parks appearing to be more “rural preservation” zones than the ecological protection areas that we have in the U.S. The question is whether relying so heavily on eco-tourism is a desirable and sustainable path for preserving the biological diversity in such a resource-rich area?

Tourism can have a big environmental footprint from travel modes as well as pushing the local labor force from productive agriculture to service jobs. Already, 300,000 people annually visit a community with 5,000 residents. Several people in Monteverde mentioned that they were reluctant to support improving road access (which is difficult now) because it could bring in more visitors, particularly cruise-ship buses that are typically not as interested in a “close to nature” experience.

One option is to train the workforce to provide the means of maintaining and observing the local ecosystem. This could include both nature guides for eco-tourists, scientific observation and analysis, and habitat restoration.

Another question is whether the local workforce should be trained to transform the habitat to match the climate change that is likely to occur in the region? Human activities such as cattle grazing and crop and forest cultivation tend to impede natural transformations that might mitigate climate change impacts in the local ecology. We might have to acknowledge that existing local habitats will change and certain species will disappear, but that we should move to substitute appropriate habitat for other species to escape to from their disappearing habitat.

A brief reply to “Real” Electricity Still Comes from the Grid

Source: “Real” Electricity Still Comes from the Grid

Catherine Wolfram at UC Berkeley posted about their paper looking at costs of distributed energy systems in Kenya and concluding that these were too expensive for households compared to connecting to the grid. However, the paper came under immediate criticism.

Here’s my thoughts based on her representation of the paper’s findings, some of which are mirrored by other commentators:

First, the paper talks about costs on one side, but doesn’t put them in perspective to the alternatives. The post lists the cost of the individual systems, but not the expected connection costs to the grid.

Further the paper takes a static look at current costs and doesn’t account for the differential trends in the sets of costs for an home-based system versus connecting to the grid. The latter costs can be expected to be steady or even rising, while it’s well known that both solar and storage costs have fallen rapidly.

Different scales of “grid” also are important. For example, solar projects show scale economies up to about 3 MW but then modular construction flattens the per kW cost. A village microgrid separate from a national central grid may be quite cost competitive.

Finally, the paper appears to lump large hydro in with other utility-scale renewables. The environmental (and economic development) record for large-scale hydro projects in the developing world is dubious at best. There is evidence of significant methane emissions from tropical reservoirs. Habitat is destroyed and poorly designed projects don’t deliver expected benefits. Hydro is by far the largest energy supplier on these grids, and they may be little better than coal from an overall environmental perspective.