COSTA RICA JOURNAL (By Russ Martin, iNews.co.cr) One real blemish on Costa Rica’s green image is the air pollution in San Jose, mainly due to vehicle emissions. Global warming is a proven issue caused by such emissions, in addition the limited quantity of petroleum in the ground means that Costa Rica needs to find a solution to its petroleum needs before prices return to their recent high levels, or beyond them.
Even if you don’t believe that the above statements are true, it is inarguable that the money spent on imported diesel and gasoline would be an enormous boost to Costa Rica’s local economy – if it were to stay here and were paid to local energy producers, either public or private.
The use of electric vehicles then becomes a great solution to solve the above problems and gain the benefits of the economic stimulation that local energy producers would provide.
While electrically powered public transport would be the ideal solution, the enormous increase in vehicles over the last two decades shows that Costa Ricans prefer the freedom gained by private transportation. This puts electric automobiles as the more pragmatic option to promote. While government action to legislate the conversion of taxis, buses and trains to a 100% electric fleet would be welcome, one must recognize that these special interest groups make that a very difficult proposition for action from either the executive or legislative branch.
In October of this year, the publisher of this blog purchased a 2011 Mitsubishi i-Miev. This article will discuss the day-to-day performance of the vehicle, as well as the reasons behind the purchase. In addition, we’ll discuss some issues and drawbacks to the vehicle, as well as simple and concrete actions the government can take to promote the use and purchase of these vehicles.
Driving the i-Miev
The i-Miev has a stated range of 150 kilometers per charge. In practice, possibly because of the topography, our maximum trip on one charge so far has been 114 kilometers. This range is extremely practical for daily use as a primary vehicle in the Central Valley.
Our main business, fully described at www.WheelsCR.com , involves a great deal of driving in order to assist clients in the purchase of a vehicle. This typically involves a mileage of 70 to 90 kilometers, which the i-Miev handles easily.
The car itself is a pleasure to drive in San Jose road conditions. We appreciate the automatic transmission in traffic jams and when stopping on hills. It has plenty of power for getting in and out of spaces, or when entering or exiting highways and main thoroughfares. It easily reaches the 90 kilometer speed limits on the highways, and also has power to pass buses and trucks at highway speeds.
The i-Miev is comfortable for its maximum of 4 passengers, even 4 adults. The rear seats fold flat, offering a good amount of cargo room. Even with gear, or a full load of passengers, the vehicle performs well, without being sluggish. The i-Miev comes with a touch screen Kenwood stereo system, that also features a Garmin GPS navigator, which is very important with an electric vehicle; since the distance driven is a critical factor, the shortest route is also the best route.
Because of it’s small size, its maneuverability is impressive, and it even has a rear view camera for parking. For the same reason, it has an impressive amount of safety features, including side curtain airbags, as well as an air bag deployment control system, which inflates the air bags or suppresses inflation according to the type of accident.
Ecological and Economic Benefits of the i-Miev
Personal Benefits: The Mitsubishi dealer stated that the car would cost 2800 colones at the standard CNFL rates to charge. Even though the range isn’t as high as the factory ratings, the economy compared to any gasoline powered vehicle is extraordinary.
In our case, we were already on the 3 tier rate system that the CNFL offers. There are peak rates, which are more expensive than normal residential rates. Off-peak rates are less expensive, and nocturnal rates are just 25 colones per Kwh up to 300 Kwh, while the maximum rate is 37 colones with no upper limit. The normal rate is 69 colones up to 200 Kwh, with a maximum of 100 colones. Comparing in either range, our cost is about 1/3 the normal rate when charging at night.
We were able to set up a water heater timer on the 220v outlet used to charge the vehicle, so we can “set and forget” the i-Miev, plugging it in whenever we return home and it will start charging after the nocturnal rate kicks in at 8:00 pm. As a result, our electric bill in the first month of use of the vehicle was only 11,000 colones higher. In that time the vehicle went at least 900 kilometers.
Compare that cost to the vehicle the i-Miev replaces, a 1996 Kia Sportage. This car has a 2000 cc engine, using regular gasoline filling the tank would cost about 40,000 colones and the car would go almost 200 kilometers. We easily drove the i-Miev 4 times the distance for one quarter of the fuel cost!
Taking advantage of the 6.75 percent financing in US dollars offered by the banks working with VEINSA, the Mitsubishi dealer, this means that we were able to sell the Kia at market value, apply that money plus some savings and purchase the i-Miev on credit. The loan payment is approximately $400, so we can nearly pay the bank loan from savings on gasoline used in the Kia.
National Economy Benefits:
According to RECOPE figures, available at their website www.RECOPE.go.cr, from 1995 – 2013 the petroleum bill for the country doubled, when expressed as a percentage of the Gross National Product (GNP). In 1995, 1996, and 1997 the percentage was 2.83%, 3.2% and 2.84%, respectively. While in 2011, 2012, and 2013 it was 5.34%, 4.82%, 4.76%
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct economic impact of tourism in Costa Rica amounted to 4.6% of GNP in 2013 (report available at www.wttc.org )
This means that Costa Rica spent every single US dollar that entered from foreign tourists in 2013, more than that actually, on foreign oil. Each tourism dollar that circulated in the country clearly had some very good impact in the local economy, but for comparison purposes we can imagine all of that money going directly to RECOPE to purchase refined petroleum products.
Clearly having that income continue to circulate within Costa Rica would have an enormous economic impact over the long term.
We can recognize that if it were possible to wave a magic wand and convert Costa Rica’s vehicle fleet to electric power, there could only be an ensuing disaster. Since the demand for electricity would overwhelm the existing grid. However a program of gradual encouragement for electric vehicles and sustainable energy sources (private or public), would eventually lead to an enormous reduction in Costa Rica’s petroleum bill and the resulting drain on the economy.
Although Costa Rica does have an emissions control program in place, via RTV vehicle inspections, it is clear that the number one impediment to reaching its stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2021 is the emissions of internal combustion powered vehicles on the road.
The air pollution in San Jose is a known issue that is well documented by various studies. Plug-in electric vehicles eliminate these environmental toxins directly.
In addition, ICE, which is in charge of generating electrical power in the country, has expressed a huge concern for its capacity to generate electrical power for the country in several occasions. Normally, they bring up the issue to justify construction of hydroelectric plants in ecologically sensitive areas, but as well in relation to expected future demand.
A trend for the purchase of electric vehicles, in addition to pressure from those owners for the supply of clean energy for recharging, would send a clear message to the ICE and the Legislature that an increase of capacity from renewable resources is a necessity rather than a nice idea. Which in turn would benefit the environment over the long run.
Plug-in electric vehicles produce no noise and no toxic emissions. As long as the energy they consume is produced from renewable sources, there is no question that they benefit the local and global environment in a big way.
Issues and Drawbacks of Electrical Vehicles
Based on our experience with the Mitsubishi i-Miev, there are very few drawbacks to the use of electrical vehicles. Supposing a typical commuter drives from a bedroom community to a centrally located office in the Central Valley, and parks there most of the day, the range is more than sufficient. The passenger capacity would more than allow for carpooling, or the case of dropping kids off at school during the morning commute, for example.
But in the interest of fairness, there are some issues with a plug-in electric vehicle.
Bad Roads: The i-Miev does pretty well on bad roads. The light body, narrow width and fair clearance give it a good amount of capacity in a surprising number of bad road situations. On the other hand, we avoid potholes religiously, because of the obviously urban-intended suspension. It just can’t handle a big pothole at a speed of even 25 or 30 kilometers per hour. At night in rainy conditions is a particular pitfall, even though the height adjustable headlights do a decent job of illuminating hazard in known bad road conditions.
Intercity Travel: The i-Miev is not apt for intercity travel. Checking a table of intercity distances, reveals that driving from San Jose to different cities doesn’t happen on a full charge:
- SJ to Perez Zeledon is 134 kilometers over the Cerro de la Muerte (Hill of Death)
- SJ to Limon is 131 kilometers, through the Zurqui Tunnel and Braulio Carillo National Park.
- SJ to Puntarenas is 115 kilometers, you could get there but probably not back.(downhill is no problem!)
- SJ to Quepos (the famous Manuel Antonio National Park) is 192 kilometers.
- Guanacaste is out of reach, with the gateway – Liberia –being 217 kilometers (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa El Coco, and Papagayo are all well beyond that).
Inner City Travel: The i-Miev is fantastic driving around town, but we also have a “Plan B” vehicle, inelectricity from any breaker box. If you are on a known route, and also with the GPS navigation system, then you can drive around with a great deal of confidence in most cases. But it must be admitted that you cannot have the same confidence that a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle gives, since there are gas stations everywhere the range is unlimited.
Obviously owners of plug-in EVs must be a bit adventurous, but it would be nice to have a network of places where a quick charge service were available. The i-Miev has a quick charge port, so different businesses could offer the service. For example, restaurants, shopping malls and gas stations could all have incentives to offer a quick charge to EV driving customers.
Government action that would help promote the use of electric vehicles.
There are several immediate actions that would expedite for consumers the purchase and use of electric vehicles. First, to give credit where credit is due, there are several benefits to owning an electric vehicle right now:
- No plate restriction: EVs and hybrids may go into San Jose downtown any day of the week.
- No tax: There is no import tax on electric vehicles. Internal combustion vehicles pay from 30% to 85% excise tax.
However, that is not very much incentive to purchase an electric vehicle. The government could do a lot more, very simply, to promote the general use of EVs. All of the below actions could happen with a simple stroke of the pen from the president, in our opinion. (correct us if wrong)
- No Marchamo: EVs will tend to be new cars, the marchamo is very expensive. An exemption on the marchamo would be very simple to provide and an enormous incentive.
- 0% financing: BCR, BNCR, Ban Credito are all state-owned banks, an executive decree (or executive pressure) could have them offer financing on the purchase of new or used Evs.
- Quick Charging Stations: Gas stations sell fuel regulated at government prices, they could be obligated to offer free (or paid) quick charges to Evs. Even more so considering that they are selling the fuel that contributes to Costa Rica’s carbon emissions and foreign oil purchases.
- Full Insurance Exemption: One big consideration in the purchase of any new vehicle is the obligatory insurance. The lender obliges the purchaser to carry full coverage (of course). In our case, about $50 per month of the payment to bank is insurance. Having an exemption on the insurance would be an extreme advantage for any consumer considering the purchase of a new vehicle. Given the relative size of the vehicular fleets, and probable driving situations, it would be a simple matter to establish an insurance coverage pool or subsidy for electric vehicles.
Beyond these straightforward solutions, an aggressive party or government could pursue the following issues:
Micro-generation – an electric car owner, could have a big incentive to install a source of renewable energy that could provide charging power to the vehicle itself and surplus power to the grid. Windmills, micro-hydro and solar panels are all solutions that would benefit the owner of the vehicle, and could also provide cheap excess power to the grid. Currently ICE does give credit to micro generators for electricity they provide to the grid, however it can only be used as credit on the electric bill and also expires after a certain time period. This provides no incentive to increase the size of any micro-generation project, increased capacity could be used to pay off the project over a shorter time frame and the cost of the EV itself.
ICE vs. Private Generators: 95% of the yearly electrical demand in Costa Rica is supplied by renewable sources. This is incredible, but if electrical vehicles become popular, then the ICE can’t be expected to fulfill this demand. Private providers must be offered the possibility to generate power and provide it to the grid. Hydro electric plants have environmental and other issues, but other systems do not. The government should provide clear regulations that will permit private producers to operate and to sell electricity to the grid, or to nearby consumers.
A very interesting prospect is the manufacture of electric vehicles, first for the local market, and secondly for similar road conditions around the world, in addition to the opportunity of piggy-backing the green image of Costa Rica for the possible export of an electric vehicle that would have the green image of Costa Rica right behind it.