Iceland almost always gets better press than it deserves, and this applies not least to environmental issues. While most of the world sees us as happy hippie nature-loving moss-hugging pixie elves, the truth is that Icelanders have perhaps the largest ecological footprint in the world per capita. And even if the number of SUVs has gone down in the last decade, this has less to do with environmental consciousness and more to do with economic collapse. Iceland is relatively clean, yes, but that’s because we have a fairly large island and not that many people to mess it up.
Where are our electric cars?
Britain has just announced that they will get 15,000 diesel cars off the road by paying their owners to switch to electric. Norway has introduced several incentives to promote the use of electric cars, such as free parking, free electricity, and no sales tax. The Norwegians intend to phase out petrol cars completely by 2025, after which point their sale will be discontinued. Their plan is to have 200,000 eCars by 2020. To reach the same ratio of electric cars on the road, Iceland would need 24,000 by the same year. Currently, Iceland has around 1000. Iceland, like Norway, has access to almost unlimited amounts of geothermal and hydroelectric renewable energy. So where are our electric cars?
Where’s our infrastructure?
Some progress is being made. City employees who come to work at least three times a week by means other than a diesel car will get a 72,000 ISK annual stipend. Vehicles operated by the city are to become electric, and eBikes introduced. It’s a start, and means Reykjavík City is leading the way, ahead of a procrastinating Parliament. At the annual conference of Reykjavík Energy Company (Orkuveita Reykjavíkur), Mayor Dagur Eggertsson recollected that it was only during the energy crises of the 1970s that city housing was weaned off oil for heating and finally switched to its abundant (and cheap) geothermal energy. He claimed that we now stand at a similar turning point. But the infrastructure is needed.
Smart technology crucial
The goal is to have 30,000 electric cars in Iceland by 2026, which starts to bring us closer to the Norwegian model. Currently, there are eleven recharging stations in Iceland—six of them in Reykjavik and two in Akureyri. By the end of the year, the intention is to have more than doubled these, allowing eMotorists to drive around the Ring Road without fear of running out of electricity. Smart technology is also crucial: since drivers need to know where to go to top up, a new app will tell them. As long, of course, as your phone doesn’t run out of battery power.
Impressive? Not really
Iceland has seen a thirtyfold increase in renewable energy use for transportation since 2010. While this might sound impressive, it’s more reflection of where we were then than where we are now. Today, Iceland’s use of renewable energy for transportation only reaches six percent of the total energy used for all vehicles. Minister of Industry Þórdís Gylfadóttir recently announced that the goal was to bring this up to ten percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030. To this end, the government is considering a payment scheme for transportation to fund the new infrastructure for electric and methane vehicles (biofuels, for their part, are compatible with existing technology).
Energy consumption decreased after last decade’s economic collapse, but is now back to 2007 levels, not least because of increased car imports, many of which are rentals for the tourism industry. CEO of energy company ON Bjarni Már Júlíusson says that CO2 emissions in Iceland have actually gone up today compared to 1990 by two percent. So quite some work is needed to keep the elves happy and the air fresh.