I've seldom met anyone like Gísli Gíslason of Northern Lights Energy. I encountered this extremely self-confident gentleman in Reykjavik, Iceland, just prior to that country's annual Driving Sustainability '09 conference. Some EV geeks are entrepreneurial -- Elon Musk (Tesla), Shai Agassi (Better Place), Kevin Czinger (Coda) -- to name a few, but Gíslason appeared to be in a class by himself. Here he is on video:
He has an ambitious plan to make Iceland the first country in the world to have a national electric car grid, and he was leaving on a buying trip right after our encounter. The plan was to find more than a thousand cars from any vendor that would let them go, then resell them in Iceland (which has only 310,000 people). "If you are a Electric vehicles manufacturer," proclaims the Northern Lights website, "you need to represent your company in Iceland....where it is all happening." Who can argue with that?
Gíslason just told me via email that at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show he placed orders for 1,000 Tesla Model S cars and 400 Indian-made Revas. "Elon Musk made a decision in eight minutes to support my project," he said. The Reva cars, much more sophisticated than the tinny boxes now plying London's congestion corridors, will be the first delivered in Europe.
According to an article in Iceland Review, Gíslason is trying to buy cars in the $15,000 to $23,000 range. The aim, the story says, is "to enable the public to replace their conventional cars with electric by 2012." That's early.
Electric vehicles (EVs) make more sense in Iceland than just about anywhere else. The country has a surplus of electric generation from abundant geothermal and hydro power, and it needs to get away from wasting that extra on polluting, foreign-based aluminum smelting plants. A plan to build a hydrogen energy economy didn't really get off the ground, largely because there still aren't any available on the market.
Iceland could service its entire island with just 20 strategically placed, multi-port charging facilities, according to Gíslason's colleague, Sturla Sightvatsson. It's time to put plans like this into action. If Iceland doesn't go into overdrive (and Gíslason's plan has the support of the President of Iceland, as I wrote last month) it will lose out to other fast-track countries, including France.
As I write, Daimler has announced that it will put an electric version of the Smart car (currently under test in Great Britain) into production by 2012. That's a good plan, but as EV expert and Plug-In America co-founder Chelsea Sexton pointed out to me just now, the EV Smart could cost $30,000 and will have to compete with the gas version costing half as much.
In other European news, the French government announced that, starting next year, it will spend more than $2 billion installing charging networks over there. Even better than that, it will require apartment buildings to offer charging (by 2012) and office parks too (by 2015).
All of this will be a powerful goad to get a French network in place. And the French will also have fleets of electric cars on the road from Peugeot, Renault and Citroen (in partnership with both Mitsubishi and Nissan). Not surprisingly, the French government has also made a commitment to buy 50,000 cars for government fleets by 2015.
So entrepreneurs like Gísli Gíslason have their work cut out if they're going to be first on the world stage.
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