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Electric transportation is a critical part of a clean transport agenda that can put Colombia on a path toward improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This was the key conclusion of the 2nd Annual Clean Transport Forum, organized by the Inter-American Dialogue in Bogota on September 22.  Introducing clean technologies today will lock in lower future emissions as Colombia’s transport sector grows in the coming decades. However, participants agreed that the country’s challenge will be to find the right mix of policies and incentives to promote electric mobility, a feat that will require many different actors to work together, including industry, local and national governments, and consumers.

picture1Colombia’s environment minister, Luis Gilberto Murillo, remarked in the opening keynote address that mitigating climate change is one of the ministry’s top priorities. The transport sector is the second largest source of emissions in Colombia after land use changes, and introducing clean transport policies is critical to achieving the country’s Paris Agreement goal to reduce climate change emissions by 20% of 2010 levels. Minister Murillo also noted that the environment ministry has been working with the finance ministry to introduce fiscal incentives for electric cars, and that he has agreed with President Juan Manuel Santos to launch an EV pilot program on the island of San Andrés.

Colombia is one of Latin America’s most advanced countries in terms of electric vehicle (EV) penetration, according to a recent report by the Inter-American Dialogue. However, on a global level, EV penetration is concentrated in a small number of countries; 90% of EVs are sold in only 8 countries, Marine Gorner, transport specialist at the International Energy Agency, said at the forum. Still, the market has grown very rapidly from a small base over the last five years. Dan Bowermaster, electric transportation program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute noted that companies are bringing more products to the market, expanding choices for consumers. 38 new plug-in electric vehicles are expected to come online between 2016 and 2020, he said. The countries that have been successful in increasing EV uptake have introduced financial incentives while creating a broader EV-friendly ecosystem that includes the right conditions for charging, pilot programs and non-financial incentives such as preferential road access, according to Glenn Schmidt, VP for Americas Government Affairs at BMW Group.

In Colombia, there is a growing understanding of the importance of electric transportation in the policy agenda, said Edder Velandia Durán, professor at the Universidad de La Salle. Key measures that have supported electric transportation include funding for applied research through the government agency Colciencias, dsc_3901inter-ministerial working groups, university and private sector-led pilot projects and an increase in corporate electric vehicle fleets. Incentives like preferential public parking, exemption from the Pico y Placa circulation restriction, tax benefits and lower electricity tariffs have also helped to increase demand for EVs in Colombia, according to Carlos García, deputy director of demand at Colombia’s Energy and Mining Planning Unit (UPME). Expanding charging infrastructure will also be necessary to increase the number of EVs in Colombia, and local utility Codensa has been a leader in building charging stations. According to David Felipe Acosta, Codensa’s general manager, the company will have 36 charging stations in Bogotá in 2017 and aims to increase this number to 125 by 2020.

Manuel Olivera, regional director for Latin America at C40, asserted that policymakers should prioritize cleaner technologies for public transportation in Bogota and other cities in the region, as Latin America boasts the largest public transportation market in the world after China. He noted that over the long term (10-15 years), the total cost, including capital, maintenance and operation, of a 12-18 meter electric bus is equal to or less than that of a diesel-fueled bus of equal size.  

dsc_3777Although Colombia needs to diversify its electricity matrix away from heavy reliance on hydropower to avoid grid vulnerability, the electrification of the country’s vehicle fleet could result in important reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, given that some 75% of Colombia’s electricity is generated from hydraulic energy, according to Ángela Cadena, professor at the Universidad de los Andes.

These arguments suggest that while Colombia may be years or even decades from seeing large scale EV deployment, there are strong reasons and great potential to set the country on a path toward electric mobility and clean transportation.

See coverage of the conference in El TiempoRadio Santa Fe and La República.