-Sturla Sighvatsson (second from right) at REVA car signing agreement.
IN: How is the program going right now? Do you already have charging posts out in the cities? How’s the roll-out going for that?
Sighvatsson: We will start the roll-out next year (2010). We are still in the design phase. First of all we set out and visited companies both in the US and the UK. They were building charging stations and offering them at point of sale to customers. But we quickly found out that they simply did not fit into the demand we put on them as products.
First of all, there is a company designing charging stations to be set up in California. We have different weather conditions here in Iceland. These solutions simply did not work. Another thing… we didn’t find the product appealing enough. We are now talks with Ideal, a design house. We have pretty much set out on all the technical specifications for the enclosures themselves. They’re being sketched up right now. We will offer a line up of charging poles and charging stations. We want the design to be consistent and fresh, trendy. We have to redefine the user experiences for them to come in and use it. We really just felt we had to do that ourselves.
However, the interior of the charging stations and the technology behind are all important. We get them from other players. But the enclosures and the look of the product is going to be our. We will have that finished by this spring.
IN: You have fast charging posts. How do you make the decision about where they go and how many of them are you going to have?
Sighvatsson: Regarding fast charging, there’s a little bit of a misconception about it. If we talk about what is considered level one charging in the US (110 volts), then we have the level two charging which is basically the general electricity here in Iceland (220 volt outlets). We are going to use a proposed standard. It’s going to be decided upon on January 28. The specs for that in the beginning are 400 volts. That current actually gives the basic batteries that are coming out from the likes of Nissan, a charge up to 80% in 15-20 minutes. However, there are other standards in the worked right now that are being tested by manufacturers by manufacturers as charging solutions. Car manufactures themselves that are at a much higher current. We’re talking maybe 600 volts. This standard has not been set yet.
But basically what we set since the electric grid here in Iceland is one of the most sophisticated in the world, we will be able to what is now considered 400 volts. Basically in 70% of the streets in Iceland. And that’s the system we’re going to set up. Instead of using the basic 220 outlets that would charge some of the bigger with the bigger batteries in 8-10 hours. They’re all going to be charged within an hour just from the regular poles on the streets.
Then there is what we refer to as the “uber-charging”. We will set up that as well. We’ll see that they put it up at gas stations all around the country. For you to stop by on longer journeys. We’ll basically have one or two or three within the city itself and scattered around the country at selected locations. We’ve mapped that out already. It might add to a 100 locations but we will not proceed installing these ultra fast charging stations until the standard has been set.
IN: Is there much of a price different between these standard charging post and fast charging posts?
Sighvatsson: There is a much heavier equipment that needs to be external. We can in the, what is considered fast charging stations (400 volts), pretty much pack all the gear in a very sleek and sexy pole. Right now. But if we are to move up to the ultra fast charging we’d actually have to have an external enclosure with the gear set up for that and need proper cooling as well.
One other thing I want to mention about the charging stations. The design of the system has to be highly scalable and there is no preference between models or anything. Having no battery swapping stations or anything like that. Our system from the very beginning is trying to work with whatever car that comes out to the market. So it’s not only bound to cars by Nissan. We work with everybody. Everybody can come in and charge at our stations.
IN: What made them so special that you decided to strike a deal with REVA.
Sighvatsson: Basically they are a first market product. They are able to deliver cars to us in significant quantities next year. That’s the reason why we decided to go with them. Because the market is screaming for the cars right now and most manufacturers in trouble with delivering cars. It’s not going to be a problem in 2011 and 2012. But 2010 there is great scarcity of cars. This gives the market something right away.
IN: What has the Icelandic public response been like to your plans?
Sighvatsson: People are extremely positive towards this. Everyone is looking forward to it. People want to start right away. Since the crash, car importing has fallen by pretty much 90% from what it used to be in 2007. So we have a unique situation. What’s basically happening right now is one is coming out and buying gasoline cars. People are holding off and waiting and once we have the cars ready and the system. People are going to move in and buy cars. We have two to two-and-a-half years of buffer that’s building up demand. Once we have the product in hand, the cars, we will do a very quick transition over.
The government has agreed now to remove all import taxes on electric cars while raising the import tax on gasoline cars up to 45%. And then on top of the import tax comes 25% VAT. We are now in the final phases of getting the government to remove the VAT on electric cars as well. So a price advantage will be there for electric cars. Currently they are more expensive. By having these incentives from the government we will be able to offer them at a better price or same price as gasoline.
IN: How much is it going to cost an Icelandic person to make this change over to the car?
Sighvatsson: It is costly but the central bank and forecasts are predicting to start coming out of the crisis in 2011. There are signs of significant recovery in the economy. We know that this is pricey. But there is another point here as well. The government has agreed to help. The government has agreed, if we take a gasoline car and ship it out,sell it out of the country, they will give back the tax that was taken off that car. It’s a refund that so you can get a voucher towards a payment for the electric car.
IN: What would happen to the gas stations attendants and employers that are associated with that? Do they need people to check them over?
Sighvatsson: We are of course both plans for conversion of the whole fleet. I guess it won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take 5 to10 years at least to convert. Maybe 15 years. We have a situation right now where the numbers of people working… the guys on the pump are dwindling and most people just pump themselves to get a discount. But we see the oil companies and gas station operators have already started to adapt to this fact. Gasoline is not their main product anymore. There is certain attraction to sell the gas and all of the oil companies here have extended their stakes. They are service stations now. They sell more groceries than gasoline. And you know… there are restaurants within them. Pizzas, burgers. The standard of the average gas station in Iceland is pretty high. So I don’t fear for them.
They came to us and want the ultra fast charging stations to be set up within their plots. We agreed to do that as well because simply… like the city of Reykjavik for example… has decided there will be no new plots issued to gas stations within the city, because there are enough gas stations. The city is willing to allow you to extend or make your plot that you have, maybe a little bit bigger so you can fit in other energy sources at your stations. Whether it’s hydrogen, ethanol, bio-diesel or electric poles for that matter. They will be setup at the current gas stations so you can go and have a hot dog and Pepsi come out again once your car is full.
IN: Anything else to cover?
Sighvatsson: Iceland has the possibility of being the first all electric nation in the world. We are not that big. It’s much more difficult to convert the UK or anything on that scale. So I think we are able, with the right product. We are at the right time. If we had set up this initiative 10 years ago we wouldn’t have gone anywhere with it because there would not have been any cars to support it. They are coming now and they are coming pretty fast. We have to prepare ourselves.
Sighvatsson: One of the biggest factors in building a new industry like this is the batteries they contribute about half of the price to a new electric car today. By any means possible to get the price of production down is very welcome by all parties here.
Building batteries is a very energy intensive thing to do. We have partnered with a company in china. We are doing feasibility studies of changing the way the batteries are made in such a way that we can add geothermal steam directly into the manufacturing line. Because during the manufacturing process there are metals that need to be heated up and cooled down. You’re building a green industry but it’s not very green if all the batteries are made in energy intensive ways. We want to reduce the overall carbon footprint and production. Here we have 100% renewable energy. Since the energy use is such a great contributor to the end price on the battery making the batteries in Iceland is a very feasible choice. Once the cells are combined and the battery pack is built the manufacture has to charge the battery 15-20 times before it’s ready. That’s done to condition the cells and a major contributor to the price. Energy prices in Iceland are some of the lowest in the world. We are currently looking into building the first 100% clean manufacturing battery plant in the world here starting late next year.
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