Iceland Fast-Tracks Electric Car Charging

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND--Gisli Gislason is on a mission: He wants to buy 1,200 electric cars. Right now. And that's easier said than done. Encountered just before the Driving Sustainability '09 conference in Iceland's capital, the ginger-haired Gislason is the CEO of Northern Lights Energy, whose 2012 New Beginnings is aiming to wire this country of 300,000 people for fast charging by that soon-to-arrive date.

Iceland, with its abundant supply of inexpensive geothermal energy and small, concentrated population, is ideally suited to be the first country in Europe hard wired for EVs. In Gislason, it might have found the right person to carry the mission beyond the talking stages. I spoke to him against a backdrop of his white Tesla Roadster, the first delivered in Europe, a unique car that's been tweaked by Euro tuner Brabus.

"We're not just talking, we're acting," Gislason says. "We want to change people's minds so that after 2012 they'll think it's stupid to buy a gasoline-powered car." Gislason was headed out on a buying trip that could take him all over the world, and he anticipates the first cars arriving on the island in May of next year.

Iceland has had an intense flirtation with hydrogen. It built a Shell refueling station for fuel-cell cars and announcing its intention to be the first zero-emission hydrogen energy economy in the world. But the country has found fuel-cell cars hard to find, leading to import a fleet of hydrogen-burning Toyota Priuses. Electric cars are a much more viable proposition in 2010.

According to Sturla Sighvatsson, managing director of Northern Lights, fast charging could be viable in Iceland with only 20 locations, each with two to four stations. And to replace the 210,000 cars on the road with EVs would require only 50 megawatts of electric power generation--no great challenge for Iceland.

We'll report later in the week on the debate at the conference, which features speakers from leading battery companies--and China's intriguing BYD (which plans to import battery cars to the U.S.). BYD will announce its timetable for the U.S. at the Detroit Auto Show next January, a company spokesman said here today.