Iceland wants to be independent from fossil fuel

Iceland plans to move the nation to use renewable energy completely since 80 percent of the nation’s total energy use already stems from renewable sources which boasts the world number one in this aspect.

Its unique combination of political will, a concentrated population of just 310,000 people and abundant, low-cost geothermal electricity could, in fact, lead to the first national charging network in the world.

Mitsubishi will be one of Iceland’s first partners. The company’s relationship to Iceland goes back to the early 1970s, when it began supplying turbines to the country’s emerging geothermal industry. Two years ago, Mitsubishi came to the table to talk about bringing its i-MiEV electric car to Iceland. Examples were brought over last year, their first visit outside Japan. Iceland’s financial crisis hasn’t derailed the Mitsubishi agreement.

Iceland has also flirted with a hydrogen energy economy, and Shell operates a filling station for fuel-cell cars. Jon-Bjorn Skulason of Iceland New Energy said that there are now 10 hydrogen cars in the country, including eight Toyota Priuses modified to burn hydrogen and Ford Focus and Explorer fuel-cell vehicles.

But Grímsson and many other Icelanders have become skeptical about hydrogen for Iceland, largely because fuel-cell vehicles remain in short supply. Meanwhile, plug-in electric cars are scheduled to hit the world’s roads in significant numbers next year. "There seems to be a slowdown in the development of hydrogen cars from the big players," Grímsson said. "We believe that electric cars may be better suited to transform our transportation fleet in a short time than hydrogen."

Northern Lights Energy (NLE), provider of infrastructure and services for Electric Vehicles (EV) in Iceland, has signed an agreement with the Reva Electric Car Company (REVA) to jointly develop the electric vehicle market in Iceland.

NLE will have exclusive distribution rights for the NXR, the new model premiered by REVA at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, and consequent follow-up models, such as the sports coupé NXG, which will be launched in 2011. The sales and marketing of the electric car will commence in the second half of 2010 and customer deliveries at the end of 2010.

NLE is working on developing a recharging infrastructure system for Electric Vehicles and vehicle exchange service to support the adoption of electric vehicles in Iceland. "Iceland is an island and with its advanced electric grid technology using 100% renewable energy in electricity production is a perfect location for zero emission electric vehicles" says Gisli Gislason, the Chairman of NLE.

In addition to importing new EV models to Iceland, NLE is also working on developing systems to convert the current internal combustion engine (ICE) car fleet into Electric Cars.

According to a feature report from the Iceland Review, by replacing the remaining oil and gas imports for the fishing fleet and transport sector with renewable energy, Iceland could well become the first country to be 100 percent energy independent.

While the country is still reeling in the aftermath of last fall’s banking collapse, some see the economic crisis as an opportunity for change towards heightened sustainability.

According to experts, by the time the economy recovers and car sales start to roll, the cost of electric cars, currently not competitive, will have fallen—paving the way for the electrification of the island’s land transport, according to the report.

‘We could use the opportunity now to modify the tax system to encourage a transition to using locally produced energy for transport,” says Pétur Albert Haraldsson, chairperson of Framtídarorka (FTO) Sustainable Solutions—a consultancy focusing on sustainable transport—and co-founder of the Driving Sustainability conference.

The 1970s oil crises spurred discoveries and increased harnessing of geothermal energy. Though the process of transitioning from coal to geothermal energy in Reykjavík began in the 1930s, the change was accelerated in the 70s when more and more houses were connected to the district heating grid in an effort to wean dependence on expensive oil imports. The switch to geothermal also means that CO² levels today are 45 percent lower than they would otherwise be, said the report.

The next step towards decarbonization and energy independence for Iceland is the transition towards clean transport and electric vehicles. “One of our greatest challenges is the transition from imported fossil fuels to fuels from renewable energy for the mobile parts of our energy system,” said Minister for Energy, Industry and Tourism, Katrín Júlíusdóttir recently.

Plans are well underway. Northern Lights Energy (NLE), an investment company focusing on environmentally friendly ventures, runs the 2012–New Beginning project that aims to enable the public to replace their conventional cars with electric vehicles by 2012, according to the report.