With a 98% renewable power grid, Costa Rica is turning its climate efforts to dirty transport, with public companies promoting electric vehicles

Electric vehicle owners share their story as part of Costa Rica Limpia’s social strategy to promote electric transport (Pic: Sofía E. Corrales/Costa Rica Limpia)

Riding atop one of the world’s greenest electrical grids, Costa Rica is now aiming for the next logical step: having the cleanest transport system on the planet.

Internationally hailed for meeting over 98% of electricity demand from renewable sources two years in a row, the central American republic is miles ahead of most nations – developing or industrialised – on the allegorical road to a carbon-free future.

But on the actual road, fossil-fuelled vehicles prevail. With clean electricity sorted by its natural abundance of hydroelectricity and geothermal resources, Costa Rica’s dirty transport is taking centre stage in its climate policies.

“Our electricity generation is almost unique and we should be making use of it in our transport system,” says Jairo Quirós, an electrical engineer with the Universidad de Costa Rica. “I believe it’s possible.”

With over 1.5 million vehicles for 4.7 million inhabitants, transport is responsible for more than half (54%) of Costa Rica’s CO2 emissions and the driving force behind its oil demand.

Public institutions, civil society and young professionals like Quirós in the so-called greenest country in the world are hoping to upend a deeply-rooted system with an old trick: be visible.

After working with the electric vehicle project “My Electric Avenue” as part of his post-doctorate research at the University of Manchester, the engineer understands the challenges and opportunities a country like his faces when trying to reinvent transportation.

You need early adopters, he says, and they require both alluring incentives and sufficient information about what they’ll get from an electric vehicle.

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Since 2006, hybrid and electric cars have been partially exempted from import taxes, but Costa Ricans have been leery of the new technology. Fewer than 1,000 EV and hybrid vehicles have entered the country in the past decade.

Public institutions are seeking to boost these numbers. The national energy company ICE is ordering 100 fully electric vehicles by year’s end and 124 more are coming from other state-owned entities. They want people to see them, so they’ll be branded…