Buenas Dias! I’m Jaime Sawle, a sophomore at UW-Madison studying Agricultural Business Management and Entrepreneurship. Over winter break, I had the opportunity to spend 12 days in Costa Rica learning about the Tico culture as well as renewable energy through the GREEN (Global Renewable Energy Education Network) program. Needless to say, the trip was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m so happy I went on the trip.
The trip was based in Costa Rica because Costa Rica relies on almost 90% renewable resources to power their country. Five types of renewable resources can be seen in Costa Rica – wind, water, geothermal, biomass, and solar. All five of these resources are used in a commercial scale in Costa Rica and through the GREEN program, I had the opportunity to visit all five of these plants up close while in Costa Rica. This opportunity is not usually available to people in the United States due to OSHA restrictions. To give everyone background knowledge on the technology we would be seeing in the plants, we also had classes while in Costa Rica to learn more about what we would be seeing. Our teacher, Frank, was an engineer in his previous career and was very knowledgeable about all the aspects of the renewable energy and the technology involved. By being in Costa Rica, it was a conducive environment for learning more about the energy that powers the majority of the country and see it being used firsthand. Furthermore, the additional information we learned about the Costa Rican, otherwise known as Tico, culture was very helpful and useful in understanding how renewable energy fits into the culture and what the culture values.
One of the values that became very obvious to me about the Tico culture was the need to be eco-friendly and considerate of all the resources being used. From farming to renewable energy, the Ticos see the value in everything and try to get the most value out of everything whether that means composting, feeding scraps to the pigs or building live fences. Yes, in Costa Rica, they plant fast growing trees, which they use as fence posts instead of cutting down trees to make fence posts! Smart, right?
We visited a few locals to learn more about how they are sustainable in their own homes. One couple who were originally from Norway put up a windmill that they use to power their home and a cabin. By putting up the windmill, the couple does not have to pay the Costa Rican government for using energy because they provide their own energy. Additionally, they don’t have to pay the government for water because they had put in their own water lines from a natural spring. This water was clean because the water was being collected from a spring that was not being used for cattle. In fact, almost 95 percent of the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink if cattle are not being run on the land.
We also saw how J.P., the coordinator of GREEN, LLC, was sustainable on his own farm. J.P. saw the value in feeding scrap food to the pigs and brewer’s grains from his brewery to the cows. From there, the cows are milked for cheese and graze on pasture to keep a controlled pasture. The pigs are bred and sold for money. Some of the hogs are raised for sausage and bacon as well when they can no longer be successfully bred back. The manure from the pigs is sprayed clean and drained into a hose that leads to a bag, which was created into a bio digester. The bio digester does just as the name says. The manure has bugs in it that begin to digest the manure in an anaerobic environment to produce methane, which JP uses to fuel his grill. The left over liquid is then used to feed into a pond, which is used to grow plants that can be used to compost the pasture.
Visiting J.P’s farm up-close opened my eyes to all the simple things people could do around their own homes to be more sustainable. While I’m not an engineer, simple things such as collecting water off from roofs or planting a rain garden are simple ways to conserve water and even save money!
Although learning about renewable energy in Costa Rica was an awesome experience, meeting people from all over the U.S. was an additionally awesome experience and may have been my favorite part of the trip. By meeting people from all over the U.S., we were able to collaborate on ideas but also be critical with such different viewpoints. We also had the opportunity to paint images in a school. The images encouraged the conservation of water and promoted renewable energy. We also put in a rainwater collection system for the school so that the school could be more eco friendly and conserve water as well as money in a safe and reliable way.
I learned so much on the trip, and I’m very thankful that I had the support of Energy Hub to sponsor me on the trip and allow me to represent them as well as UW-Madison.