This page has sections regarding the charging infrastructure in Costa Rica, as well as a description of different types of charging points. Related to charge infrastructure is the concept of range anxiety, which is a common stumbling block for prospective EV owners. Further along, it covers different aspects about EVs versus internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE vehicles).
Different Types of Charging Points
Quick Charge (L3) – this is the most important charging point type for travelers. The actual installed stations are rated at 50 kw, which translates to 250 kilometers of range per hour of charging. Most EVs on the road today are able to charge to 80% capacity in 30 minutes, at that point the onboard computer reduces the charging speed to protect the battery from overheating. At the end of 2019, there were 15 L3 chargers operating, there will be more than 70 by the end of 2020. The next chargers will be rated for 100KW, which will allow EVs with 32 and 48 Kwh battery capacities to charge to 80% in 30 minutes as well.
At the end of 2019 ARESEP approved the rates for L3 quick charging stations. This rate is 182.72 per kilowatt hour, so it will cost roughly from 1800 to 5400 colones to charge a typical EV on the road.
Home or Work Charger (L2) – these are fixed charging points that run on 220v current, similar to a clothes dryer. They are called L2 or Mode 2 chargers and it is the most common type of charger that EV owners use at home. Each EV battery has a recommended charging speed, most are 3 to 7 KW, so these charging points normally provide no more than 12KW. This charging speed is the best way to charge, since quick charging does affect battery life-span.
At this time, all public L2 charging stations are free to use. These charging points are 220v and are much faster than the L1 chargers. Most EVs will fully charge in 4 to 5 hours, a specialized charging station can reduce the charging time by up to 30%. These stations are sometimes provided as an incentive by new car dealers, but they can also be purchased locally for $300 to $800, depending on the type and capabilities.
Travel Charger (L1) – EVs come with a portable charger, which allows the driver to charge the EV at any available outlet. These have adapters to either 110v outlets, or 220v outlets. The 110v adapter is referred to as an L1 type, and is what allows EVs to charge anywhere that has electricity. The disadvantage is that the charge is very slow, however in some cases it’s a very useful option.
Range Anxiety in Costa Rica
Range Anxiety is worrying about how much remaining battery charge your electric vehicle contains, this translates to how many kilometers your EV can still go on the remaining battery charge.
In general, people get range anxiety on the way home, the most common charging point for EV drivers. (See Charging Point Types and Locations Section above)
10 years ago, when the first modern EVs were launched in Costa Rica, range anxiety was a big deal. While gas stations are plentiful, where can one charge the EV? The good news was that electricity coverage in Costa Rica is one of the best in the world, so from that perspective there is actually no limit on range or charging locations.
On the other hand, traveling long distances in the EV still wasn’t practical, because of the long charging times at 110v or 220v outlets. And the short range of the REVA Li-on and Mitsubishi i-Miev meant that the main purpose was urban driving or commuting. (in actual use these cars go 80 to 120 kilometers, depending on the driving style and terrain)
As of 2019 in Costa Rica, no one who owns an EV, or who is considering one, should have range anxiety. Law 9518 requires public utilities to provide charging infrastructure for EVs. Also large shopping centers, office buildings and other public spaces being built must provide charging points. There are apps and web sites that provide listings of private and public charging points, these work well in Costa Rica.
In addition, the brand new EVs are approaching 400 kilometers of range, in theory that’s enough to go from Guanacaste to San Jose and return without re-charging! If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy a new EV, the used ones that importers bring still have a factory rating of 250 km or range, a normal user in the Central Valley charges 2 or 3 times a week, maximum.
Myths and Arguments About Electric Vehicles
One of the first myths or conceptions people have about EVs is their power, they wonder if an EV can go up hills, or will be slow to respond in emergency situations. This concern goes away about 5 seconds into the first test drive! EVs have more torque and better acceleration than a gasoline or diesel engine. They will go up any paved hill or mountain in Costa Rica, and recharge themselves on the way down!
Changing lanes or accelerating into traffic is a pleasure, the vehicle responds instantly and the electronically assisted steering feels sporty. ABS brakes and skid control are standard on most models, so these important safety features are also a plus.
There Isn’t Enough Energy Supply
A valid concern to some people is the overall energy supply. It is true that in order to convert the entire country to electrically powered transportation overnight, energy supply would also have to be increased proportionally. Of course in the real world, neither is possible. So the real question is that if over time there is enough capacity in Costa Rica to supply energy to EVs that replace ICEs.
As prices for renewable energy equipment drop, it becomes more economical for EV owners to install their own production capacity. A solar panel installed at a daytime parking space, for example, could charge an EV and save the owner money, paying for the initial investment in a short time.
The expectation is also that Costa Rica’s laws regarding the energy marketplace will be modernized.
Electric vehicles have an interesting effect of reducing peak consumption in practice and in computer models studied around the world. They are normally able to be charged in off-peak hours, and with specialized equipment and software, could become a revenue source for the owner. This is called two way charging, the owner could charge the battery at a lower rate and sell the energy back to the distributor at peak times, thereby earning a profit which could go towards the cost of the vehicle itself. Even if this isn’t implemented, EVs charging at night don’t stress the grid, and even helps the energy distribution network. For example, in hydro electric plants or geothermal plants the production of energy within a certain range or certain seasons is constant. When there is low demand, the operator can’t sell that surplus energy, EVs can store this energy and that helps mitigate the difference between supply and demand at different times of day, or in certain seasons.
EVs Contaminate More Than ICE Vehicles
In some countries this is a more valid argument. Even in these countries, however, the emissions from power plants that run on fossil fuels can be managed and in that case would be less contaminating than the emissions from the individual internal combustion engines. In other words, emissions are less from the single source providing power to the electric cars compared to the individual emissions from ICE vehicles under the old-fashioned system.
In Costa Rica this discussion is moot. In the last decade, over 95% of Costa Rica’s annual energy supply is produced from renewable sources. The mix includes geothermal, wind, solar, and hydro electric.
The main question then becomes the EV batteries. There are questions that must be answered as to the source of the minerals used to produce the batteries, then also as to what happens to the batteries once they may no longer be used in electric vehicles.
As new battery technologies become more feasible for mass production, this issue of carbon footprint may become unimportant, and as more batteries are produced for electric vehicles in first world markets, steps can be taken to ensure that these batteries are produce ethically and in a sustainable fashion.
In Costa Rica the issue is more a question of the batteries being disposed of properly. Fortunately, there are multiple circumstances that will combine to eliminate this issue. First, once the current batteries are depleted and the EV’s range is too limited, they must be replaced. However, the batteries are still useful, it’s just that they must now be used in a stationary application rather than a mobile one. For example, a remote community or household could use old batteries from electric vehicles to store power generated from solar panels for nocturnal use. Or they could be converted to a backup electricity system for a household or commercial enterprise, for use when the power goes out.
EVs Are Unsafe
Both EVs and ICEs can be dangerous to operate and in case of an accident. For example, the risk of fire in a severe accident is present in both, although less probable in an electric vehicle. Mainly because it is much easier to set fire to fossil fuels from a ruptured tank than to rupture and ignite an EV battery pack.
EVs are designed with safety features regarding the protection of the battery in case of accident, also the electrical systems in case of flood or other type of immersion. EVs can even be charged in the rain!
Accidents in EVs are less likely, because the drivers avoid rapid speed changes in order to extend the autonomy of the vehicle. One advantage EVs have though, is the weight distribution is superior, batteries are heavy and can be incorporated lower in the design, so the vehicle’s center of gravity is lower, preventing roll over.
EVs Are More Expensive / Only For The Wealthy
Since the re-introduction of Electric Vehicles in the global market after 2005, the common perception is that they are too expensive. This perspective has its merits, there are several reasons that new EVs introduced at this time were expensive: 1) Batteries were expensive, 2) Production Scales Were Limited, 3) Development Costs Were High.
As we begin 2020, these 3 factors are much weaker. Battery prices have dropped exponentially in the last decade. Improvements in the technology have meant less weight and smaller battery pack dimensions, while at the same time the pack has 2 to 3 times the storage capacity of the earlier models.
Manufacturers have gotten past the experimental phase, and have ramped up production quantities. So an EV model for Nissan or GM can have similar production numbers to an ICE model. So many of the savings from scale occur, in addition the production lines can be improved to become more efficient. The technology that drives EVs is more mature, so research and development costs are less for these models.
At the same time, EVs still are more expensive than similar ICE models. Battery prices continue to drop, so EVs are expected to reach parity between 2025 and 2030. At the same time, driving an EV is a better experience, and total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle is less right now. So it may be that EVs never reach parity with ICE models, particularly as fossil fuel based vehicles are phased out of the market in developed and developing countries.