Iceland is poised to become the first country in the world fully wired for electric car charging, and it’s happening all at once, with Israel’s misfortune becoming Iceland’s gain. It helps, a lot, that Iceland has abundant clean electricity and is so small—the size of Kentucky, with only 325,000 people.
Huge resources of both hydroelectric and geothermal energy mean that Iceland has generating capacity far beyond what it can use itself. Right now a lot of the excess power is going to making aluminum for export, a dirty process. Since gasoline is very expensive in Iceland (approximately $8 a gallon), fueling with domestic power makes a whole lot of sense. A national effort to run Iceland on hydrogen fizzled out, in part because of the difficulty of getting fuel-cell cars onto the island, but EVs are readily available.
Gisli Gislason, the CEO of Reykjavik-based Northern Lights Energy and EVEN, tells me that he’s bought 200 240-volt charging poles from the flamboyant but now-defunct Better Place, which was to have turned Israel into an electric vehicle paradise. In a deal that splits Better Place’s considerable assets, Iceland gets the chargers and Renault takes back its 359 Fluence Z.E. cars set up for battery swapping. Liquidators have been trying to offload Better Place’s assets since last year, but two previous deals fell through.
EVEN is the main EV vendor in Iceland, selling the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf and the Indian-made Mahindra Reva e2o. Since September 2013, Gislason says, 20 Leafs and 20 Model S have been sold. “We expect to put 250 new EVs on the road in the next 12 months. We’re seeing the same trend as in Norway—sales are booming.”
There aren’t many chargers now, but wiring the country won’t be a huge challenge. “The good thing about Iceland is that we have two thirds of the population in the capital of Reykjavik,” Gislason says. “There’s one 900-mile main road around the island, and only a few small towns off the road, but within 60 miles of it. I think 200 charging poles should do the job.” The company is close to a deal with a fuel retailer that would put chargers in gas station parking lots across Iceland.
“If this works out, EV owners in Iceland will not only be using the cleanest energy in the world, but also driving for free,” Gislason said. “Beat that.”