Energy and Sustainable Transportation Opportunities in Costa Rica | BCSE
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Energy and Sustainable Transportation Opportunities in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s vision is to become “a laboratory for the world’s economy deep decarbonization process, working with civil society, the private sector, academia, and the international community…” With this vision come enormous business opportunities for American clean energy technologies and low-carbon transportation solutions. Earlier this year Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) members and GHG Engineering, LLC, met with the Embassy of Costa Rica to discuss these potential opportunities.

Here are some facts that reflect Costa Rica’s accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities for decarbonization in both the power generation and the transportation sectors.

This Central American country, somewhat smaller than Switzerland and roughly twice the size of Vermont, has achieved notable sustainable development goals in the electric generation sector by historically generating most of its electricity from renewable sources. In 2015 and 2016 Costa Rica generated about 98% of its electricity (10,700 GW-h, 2015) from hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and biomass energy resources.

In 2007, Costa Rica pledged to be carbon neutral by 2021. It is also a country that has a transportation sector that is close to 100% dependent on (imported) fossil fuels, creating a an almost impossible hurdle to meeting this goal of carbon neutrality by 2021. However, Costa Rica has recently recognized that realistically it will take decades not years to accomplish carbon neutrality.

In 2015 Costa Rica consumed close to 307 million gallons of gasoline, approximately 8% more than in 2014, driven by an increased number of automobile imports. The approximate carbon emissions from 2015 gasoline consumption equates to about 2.73 million metric tonnes CO2e. As of 2016, Costa Rica had about 915,000 automobiles. Of significance is that the diesel related CO2e emissions for the same period were about 1.3 times that of gasoline. Diesel is mostly used by light and heavy trucks, and public transportation buses.

The energy contained in the gasoline consumed by Costa Rica in 2015 equates to about 10,150 GW- h which is about the same amount of electricity generated by entire power sector. However, because of the increased efficiency of electrical vehicles, GHG Engineering has estimated that to electrify Costa Rica’s 2016 automobile fleet, about 3,000 GW-h/year of new generation would be needed. To supply this additional electricity, approximately 500 land based wind turbines (2 MW each) would be needed and such an installation is estimated to require 150 km2 of land or about 0.3 % of Costa Rica’s territory. The equivalent solar facility would occupy an estimated 50 km2. All these figures should be considered preliminary estimates.

Solar energy as a percentage of the electrical generation mix is less than 0.2%, which is considered very low for a country like Costa Rica. The National Institute of Electricity reported that the 2015 residential (not utility scale) solar electricity generation potential of Costa Rica was about 0.220 GW-h/year which is nil compared to the total electrical energy consumption. Therefore, it would appear that there is a significant solar electrical power generation potential in Costa Rica that is untapped.

One of the takeaways from the meeting at the Embassy of Costa Rica was the need to better understand Costa Rica’s transportation sector in terms of factors including energy consumption, infrastructure, transportation modes, and the regulatory environment. It was also discussed that an effective and sustainable transportation sector is vital to the country’s economic growth.

The author believes that to achieve carbon neutrality within the next decades Costa Rica will need to approach decarbonization of its transportation sector (and other sectors) by developing and implementing a plausible low carbon development plan (LCDP). This means that Costa Rica’s aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2021 will most likely not be achieved in the next four years. But it can be achieved within a few decades through careful planning and unwavering stakeholder support.

In very broad terms, a low carbon development plan (LCDP) is a multi-stakeholder and multisector undertaking that defines and evaluates different plausible economic development scenarios that can significantly reduce a country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while decoupling emissions and energy demand from long term economic growth and population well-being.

A complete LCDP typically includes the analysis of the transportation, household, power generation, industrial, and agricultural sectors. A LCDP links all these economic sectors and is often developed for planning horizons spanning 20, 30 and/or 50 years. To be successful, a transportation focused LCDP will require political will and tenacity, intensive stakeholder participation, and viable funding mechanisms, among others. This will be a difficult undertaking but certainly not insurmountable.

About the Author

John A. Mosheim, P.E.,CEM, GHG Engineering, LLC

GHG Engineering is an engineering consulting firm specializing in water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions management, and sustainability. The ideas and comments expressed in the blog are the author’s alone, and should not be construed as anything else. Additionally, the author bears the responsibility for any potential inaccuracies. John can be reached at jam[at] with any comments.