What country will be the first to make electric cars the default national transportation? If collective will made things happen, it would probably be the tiny green country of Iceland.

I’m going to be taking part in and helping plan Driving Sustainability 2010, a conference on electric cars taking place this fall in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. Greater Reykjavik is home to 200,000 people, which is two thirds of the entire population.

Some 75 percent of Iceland’s population lives within 37 miles of Reykjavik, and the rural areas (connected by an 840-mile ring road) could probably be wired with just 15 fast-charging stations. That, coupled with the fact that 80 percent of Iceland’s energy is cheaply produced renewable (from geothermal and hydro) should give you a good idea why this is the ideal test bed for electric vehicles.

Iceland doesn’t have the world’s largest geothermal resource but it has by far the largest per capita. Here’s how the country mines hot water from beneath the earth, according to Popular Science:

“Iceland’s geological evolution makes it especially well suited to harvesting geothermal energy. The island is basically one big volcano, formed over millions of years as molten rock bubbled up from the seafloor. The porous rock under its treeless plains sponges up hundreds of inches of rain every year and heats it belowground. Using this energy is simply a matter of digging a well, drawing the hot fluid to the surface, and sticking a power plant on top. Then, as power plants go, it's business as usual: Steam spins a turbine that drives a generator, and electricity comes out the other end.”
Only 3 percent of Iceland’s energy comes from coal, which should silence electric vehicle critics who say that U.S. cars operating on electricity from dirty coal plants are just moving the pollution around. Iceland has the actual potential to get close to zero emissions.

You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss Iceland’s serious financial problems, however. If you’ve been under some volcanic rock, here’s a video update:

The financial crisis (combined with the problem of getting electric vehicles on the country’s roads) has delayed the revolution in progress, but not lessened the level of commitment. Iceland's president, who I interviewed last year, is also passionately committed.

Iceland has a 2008 memorandum of understanding with Mitsubishi, which is already a partner in the country’s aluminum smelting operations, to deliver i-MiEV electric cars. The plan was to have several dozen i-MiEVs (imported tax free) on the road in 2009, and greatly expanded availability this year, but only a few of the battery vehicles are on the island now.

An Icelandic entrepreneur named Gisli Gislayson is also planning to import electric vehicles into Iceland, starting with Indian-made Revas. It would be useful if the world’s electrification gurus had Iceland on their radar screens, because no other country could plug in so quickly.

Iceland originally set its sights on a hydrogen-based energy economy. Shell opened a commercial hydrogen pumping station in 2003 and briefly fueled Daimler-Benz Citaro fuel-cell buses there (and the occasional visiting General Motors Equinox). There are a few hydrogen-burning Priuses in Iceland, available for rental through Hertz. But nobody is making hydrogen vehicles in any quantity yet (2015 is the target date) so that’s a dream delayed.

  

Iceland is a country of tech-savvy early adopters who would snap up available electric vehicles. It’s trying to get the world’s attention. Despite the financial crisis, there’s still plenty of disposable income in what was once one of the world’s richest economies. Here we are, Iceland is saying, put us in your early delivery plans.

Related on MNN: Jim Motavalli interviews Iceland's president

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