Exaggerating alternative energy use in Coast Rico

Unless you’ve avoided social media for the last week, you probably know that last year, Costa Rica was able to produce 98% of its electricity without oil – a feat that most larger and wealthier countries have never accomplished.

Over the past few days, reports of Costa Rica’s 271 days of fossil-fuel free electricity have made their way to almost every corner of the internet.

The news has bolstered the Central American country’s already outstanding environmental reputation – but the excitement has masked another less-than-green truth about Costa Rica’s energy use: the country’s demand for oil is actually growing.

The country uses a mix of hydro, wind and geothermal to power the homes of its 4.9 million people, but because of its gasoline-dependent transportation sector, renewables make up less than a quarter of the nation’s total energy use.

According to Costa Rica’s State of the Region report, the country has approximately 287 cars per 1,000 people, surpassing both the world and Latin American average.

Hybrids and electric cars that can feed off the renewable electricity grid make up less than 2% of those vehicles, and according to the national oil refinery, gas purchases increased by 11% in 2016.

This explosive growth in private vehicles is causing more than just pollution. Traffic in the capital, San José, has become almost unmanageable, with the city earning the worst ranking for congestion in Latin America, according to a study by the navigation app Waze.
The country is not particularly industrialized and its energy source besides wind and solar is hydroelectric.  It is likely that the grid could not withstand adding charging of electric vehicles on a mass basis.  What the story really shows is the limitation of alternative energy even in small nonindustrial countries.


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