Costa Rica and Colombia

Expanding renewable transport options generates huge opportunities – experts

Bnamericas Published: Friday, May 14, 2021
Expanding renewable transport options generates huge opportunities – experts

The shift from fossil-fuel-based urban public transport to modes fueled by renewable energy represents huge opportunities if financing can be secured, according to experts speaking during the Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW 2021).

“We need financing and financial sector players coming into this scenario because not every taxi driver has access to credit, or the owner of a small bus can’t easily invest in an electric vehicle,” said Lina Marcela Quiñones, director of mobility intelligence at Bogotá’s mobility secretariat.

However, the speakers at the event, organized by a partnership of international and regional organizations, warned that swapping internal combustion vehicles for electric-powered ones merely displaces traffic issues and they pointed out that safe disposal of batteries remains an ongoing issue.



“We see this massive push for electrification of the transport sector, we see a massive push for more electric buses in Latin America,” said Lea Ranalder, project manager at REN21, a Paris-based think-tank on renewable energy policy. 

With over 1,000 electric buses and taxis, Bogotá is second only to China in terms of deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) for public transport, according to Quiñones.

The growing numbers of these EVs raises the issue of where the electricity to fuel these vehicles comes from and how everything can be electrified and powered by renewables. 

“How Bogotá is taking this transition to electric energy could be an example for all the cities … that don’t have a metro system, since metro systems have been working with electricity for quite a while,” said Quiñones.


Walking and cycling should also be given more prominence in urban infrastructure planning, according to various speakers.

“It’s urgent that public bicycles begin to be seen as public transport, and public bicycle schemes are developed around collective transport, so that both modalities are complemented,” David Gómez, urban transport consultant for the BiciBus bicycle advocacy group in Costa Rica, told BNamericas.

Bogotá and Guatemala City are trying electric bikes as options, with the panelists believing that two- and three-wheel options are one way to move forward in urban mobility.

This would allow public transport to solve larger issues, with more short journeys being undertaken by cycling.


According to REN21’s Renewables Global Status Report, over 1bn people were living in cities without renewable energy targets or policies last year.

However, 800 cities have defined net zero emissions targets, with cities in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico prominent in Latin America and Costa Rica’s ambitious US$21bn decarbonization plan leading the way in Central America.

Quiñones said Bogotá was just starting to create regulation to improve vehicle charging point availability, which are often on private land whose owners can limit access. Placing charging stations in apartment blocks was one suggestion of how this issue could be solved.

Gómez highlighted that enforcing existing legislation could also improve renewable transport policy. 

“In the best-case scenario [there could be] commitment to a gradual change towards electric buses, as well as the adaptation of units to transport up to four bicycles per trip, as established by the law [in Costa Rica],” Gómez said. 


Who owns transportation is also a major challenge to using renewables given the cost and access required. 

A city could have public transport, but there still needs to be a mass change in private transportation and consumers have to be encouraged to use EVs, as EV producers need incentives to sell in more countries in the region.

However, “an electric vehicle jam is still a traffic jam, so it’s not desirable to shift everything to electric vehicles,” said Ranalder.

Clean public and private transportation options should be affordable, while the national electricity grid should also be safe and use renewables. Aside from clean electricity, other options for transport could include biofuels using plant-based ethanol or green hydrogen.

All the experts agreed that consumer recognition of the value of renewable-fueled public transport needs to improve, with the example given of Bogotá’s electric taxis, which have been less popular than gasoline-fueled taxis. Users complained about several issues and still prefer older taxis.


Given that electric vehicle batteries contain toxic elements and need to be disposed of effectively, the experts believe a wider debate on the sustainability of EVs in financial, social and environmental terms will emerge.

“Batteries aren’t conventional residue, they’re toxic and create a lot of problems. We don’t want to switch one big environmental problem for another,” said Quiñones.

Reusing EV batteries after is one option that was mentioned, but Quiñones was aware of only one business in Bogotá offering this service, highlighting the small market and lack of preparation.


Summing up, Quiñones thought the three major issues around renewable energy-fueled transport are technological advances, infrastructure deployment such as charging stations, and the renewal and disposal of batteries.

Meanwhile, Ranalder said the goals should focus on costs, energy independence, energy poverty reduction, and renewables as opportunity to reduce inequalities.

“Also in terms of local economic benefits, we see that renewables provide jobs. Recent studies have shown [they produce] three times more jobs than fossil fuels. And if we think of economic recovery, especially after the COVID crisis, this is definitely something to take into consideration,” she added.

Photo credit: Bogotá city hall

Subscribe to the leading business intelligence platform in Latin America with different tools for Providers, Contractors, Operators, Government, Legal, Financial and Insurance industries.

Subscribe to Latin America’s most trusted business intelligence platform.

Other projects in: Infrastructure

Get critical information about thousands of Infrastructure projects in Latin America: what stages they're in, capex, related companies, contacts and more.

Other companies in: Infrastructure (Costa Rica)

Get critical information about thousands of Infrastructure companies in Latin America: their projects, contacts, shareholders, related news and more.

  • Company: Enersys Costa Rica S.A.  (Enersys Costa Rica)
  • ENERSYS is an equipment provider involved in the commercialization of solutions for energy systems, telecommunications and infrastructure. ENERSYS is present throughout the enti...
  • Company: Consejo Nacional de Vialidad  (CONAVI)
  • Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (CONAVI) is an organization of the Costa Rican government responsible for overseeing the planning, administration, financing, control, and maintenan...