The news from Iceland has been all about its economic meltdown, but there's other seismic activity going on there, too. Will Iceland roll with hydrogen vehicles or, as it looks increasingly likely, plug-in battery ones?
Despite the delivery, during the Copenhagen climate talks, of 10 new Ford Focus FCV fuel-cell vehicles into the tiny country of just 300,000 people (adding to a small fleet of 10 hydrogen-burning Priuses), it's still likely that Iceland will have an EV infrastructure before there's extensive fuel cell operations. (Photo: Ford.)
Iceland is still on the ropes financially, and that complicates the purchase of any high-tech cars in what is otherwise the greenest country on earth (according to the Yale/Columbia Environmental Performance Index). After all, more than 80 percent of Iceland's energy use is from ultra-clean domestic sources, including geothermal and hydro.
Iceland already produces far more electricity than its small use (which explains the presence of those current heavy aluminum smelters). It could easily produce hydrogen in bulk, too. So which way will it go?
To clarify how things are likely to play out, I talked to Gudni Johannesson (pictured), the director general of the National Energy Authority of Iceland, which regulates the country's geothermal power. "There was one of the [hydrogen-burning] Priuses in front of my institute today," he said.
The Ford hydrogen cars will be leased for six months at a time to community organizations and energy companies, Johannesson said, adding that there remains only one hydrogen station (operated by Shell) in the capital city of Reykjavik.
There were high hopes that with only a couple dozen charging stations, Iceland (whose population is 64 percent concentrated in Reykjavik) could be easily wired for battery cars. Plans were drawn up, and lucrative government tax rebates--covering 30 to 40 percent of the purchase price--were passed. Electric cars can park free in Reykjavik. "But then the collapse of the banks happened, and the currency depreciated," Johannesson said. "Battery cars were expensive then, and they're even more expensive now."
Meanwhile, a fleet of sexy Mitsubishi I-MiEV electric cars seems to have been indefinitely delayed from a planned delivery of late last year. "They have been produced with the steering wheel on the wrong side," Johannesson said. So far, only right-hand drive Japanese-spec I-MiEV cars have been made.
Businessman Gisli Gislayson, who is unusually entrepreneurial for an Icelander, is intent on bringing a fleet of Indian-made Reva battery cars into the country. Johannesson said he drove an early version in Mumbai and found it primitive, but he also tested the newer model (with 75-mile range) and found it much improved. I drove the early version of the G-Wiz in Iceland and also found it dreadful, but the company is said to have made great strides.
Finally, Iceland has already empowered its citizens to drive methane-burning flex-fuel cars powered by landfill gas. Methane is also widely available, and Johannesson said it costs only 70 percent of the price of the country's very expensive imported gasoline.
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