Costa Rica is setting the precedent for other nations looking to utilise green energy and reduce their carbon footprint.

The small Central American nation has generated 100% of its electricity from renewable sources for the past 121 days, and the run isn’t over yet. The country, which draws clean energy from a variety of renewable sources, still has its sights on a full year without fossil fuels.

With a 121-day stretch of 100% renewable energy under its belt and several months left in the year, Costa Rica appears to be edging closer to its admirable target. Costa Rica could be on track to match the record set with its renewable energy production last year, which accounted for 99% of the country’s electricity. That included 285 days powered completely by renewable sources, according to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

Costa Rica is able to take advantage of a multitude of renewable energy sources because of its unique climate and terrain. Most of the nation’s renewable energy comes from hydropower, due to its large river system and heavy tropical rainfalls. Solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy also play key roles.

Green ambitions

Costa Rica have shown great ambition in the field of renewable energy over the past few years and according to the government they are aiming to be entirely free from fossil fuels by 2021. However, with large sums of money currently being invested in geothermal energy projects, it is anticipated that this impressive target could indeed be met much sooner than originally expected.

In comparison, some countries (ourselves included) could be perceived as simply not doing enough to tackle climate change and improve our energy habits. Costa Rica achieving 99% renewable energy usage this year sends a stark message to the rest of the world of what is possible when a country unites to make a concerted effort to fight global warming using sustainable energy sources and technologies already at our disposal.

In construction, bringing a scientific approach to the design of a building that commits to an energy standard is not the easiest of things to achieve. When Passive House caught the imagination of those seeking answers to achieving an energy standard capable of dealing with today’s environmental problems, it seemed it would become the template for future buildings. However, the problem with science is there is always another answer and similar to politics, depending on how you define the question, the answer can lead elsewhere.

Active House, although not sitting directly opposite Passive House, is being proposed as a new option to the current issues. With the European target for all buildings to be near zero-energy by 2021, Active House design looks to achieve a neutral CO² balance without the rigorous Passive House standards that restrict many opportunities.

The principle behind the Active House approach is to consider both the passive and active components of a building, minimising the operational energy of a building as well as the emissions of each building and the embodied energy during construction whilst allowing architects more freedom.

Where passive design lays out ridged rules on heat demand regardless of size or function of a building thus creating a limit on design parameters, Active House states it takes a softer approach to heating requirements as part of the overall design which permits more flexibility to the architectural design of a building.

But which approach is right? Passive House has been around for 20 years-plus. It has a proven track record – although in a niche market in the UK – but many of its principles have become standard building practice such as air tightness, an awareness of thermal issues and solar-gain through fenestration.

The problem for architects lies in the limitations on a design that has to achieve a calculated heat demand which is the foundation stone of Passive House construction. I know from experience that trying to achieve a Passive House standard whilst working with an architect who is focused on design-first and an energy consultant who is constantly challenging his design, makes for uncomfortable construction.

Could Active House make life easier for architects and builders? Not an easy one to answer as with any type of construction the truth is in the detail and whilst passive may be difficult to build its issues and problems are known and we have answers to most of them. With Active House the idea requires a rethink on a new building energy standard that requires a balanced approach to each individual building and this could pose more than a few issues at the design stage.

So if you take the Active House design and for example a standard three-bedroom house that over a period of say 40 years will see several lifestyle changes and technological advances, how this will impact on the original design is very hard to say. But if you look back over the last 40 years the house we live in today is a different animal from the original design, and if we had designed it then based on a commitment to an Active House would it still stand the test of time?

One thing is for sure, there is no perfect answer to Europe’s drive towards reducing energy commitments and that will undoubtedly create long and protracted discussions across borders.

But without doubt delivering a one-type of design to suit all will be the hardest argument of all especially for builders.

By Martin Peat, Director, Richardson & Peat

Theresa May’s decision to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is alarming as it signals that improving the energy efficiency of our existing buildings has been pushed ever-further down the list of Government priorities, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “Three years ago Cameron told his officials to “cut the green crap” and May has taken this further still by dissolving DECC. This means that there will be no Cabinet-level Minister championing climate change issues at the highest level of Government, which is bound to result in less emphasis and less action. Andrea Leadsom’s appointment as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs provides little solace when you consider that she has regularly voted against measures to tackle climate change in the past. This matters because for May’s newly-formed Government to side-line its green policies, would be to sacrifice their numerous economic benefits.

“May should make improving our existing buildings an infrastructure investment priority as the knock-on benefits for jobs and growth are enormous. A programme to make British buildings more energy efficient would generate £8.7 billion of net benefits. This is comparable to the benefits delivered by the first phase of HS2, Crossrail, smart meter roll out, or investment in new roads. And unlike these large infrastructure projects, work to improve our existing buildings is not at the mercy of the lengthy and protracted planning process – work could start tomorrow.

“We welcome the appointment of Justine Greening as Secretary of State for Education with responsibility for skills and apprentices, which previously came under the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We hope that she continues the good work of Nick Boles in improving the quality of apprenticeships, which will in turn help elevate their status so that they are recognised by society as of equal worth to university degrees. Greening has a solid background in transport and treasury briefs which will no doubt help her understand the importance of having a properly skilled construction workforce. As we face the prospect of Brexit, combating the construction skills crisis has never been more important.”

Evinox Energy will be exhibiting in the District Energy Pavilion at Ecobuild, taking place from the 8th to the 10th March at the ExCeL London. Ecobuild is the leading exhibition and conference for the UK construction and energy market, attracting over 40,000 industry professionals from across the entire supply chain. This year’s event is set to be bigger and better than ever, focusing on market priorities such as housing, infrastructure, technology and innovation.

The District Energy Pavilion will provide visitors with the opportunity to meet with a selection of suppliers and industry experts all in one area, and includes a comprehensive, informative seminar programme, featuring the latest information about efficient heat networks.

We specialise in communal & district heating systems, and manufacture our own range of modern heat interface units (HIU’s), designed with efficiency and end user comfort in mind. We will also be presenting a seminar in the District Energy Pavilion at the exhibition, where we will be discussing efficient heat network design and management.

Visit us on stand E4280 to find out more about our metering & billing solutions for communal & district systems, and smart control technology. Our systems combine effective HIU control with excellent after-sales end-user support and flexible metering and billing services, ensuring the building owner has a hassle-free, efficient development and residents enjoy a comfortable and relaxed place to live.

We look forward to welcoming you at the event. You can register now to attend the exhibition for free by visiting