Why Ireland Could Be An Electric Car Powerhouse

For prospective car buyers in Ireland, the deal just got a little sweeter to make their next vehicle an electric one. This morning the Irish government announced plans to offer electric car buyers grants of 5,000 euros ($6,815), in the country’s latest move to support a goal of having plug-in vehicles make up at least 10 percent of the national fleet by 2020.
Also today, the Irish government, state-backed utility ESB and the Renault-Nissan Alliance announced they’ve finalized an agreement to partner on electric transport in Ireland. This comes about a year after the French-Japanese duo first teamed up with ESB to study and develop an electric car network.
Under the agreement announced Monday, Renault-Nissan aims to sell at least 2,000 electric vehicles in Ireland by 2011, including the Nissan LEAF sedan and the Renault Kangoo Z.E. And Renault says in a release today that it will provide 100 pre-production models of its Fluence Z.E. for a pilot project next year, before launching sales in 2012.
ESB will provide charging infrastructure in the homes of the consumers and commercial customers who end up buying those 2,000 EVs. In all, ESB has pledged to install 3,500 charge points and 30 “fast charge points” by the end of next year in cities including Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. The utility expects to install only nine of those fast chargers in 2010.
Eric Bassett, managing director for Renault Ireland said in a statement Monday that “Ireland is ideally suited for the introduction of electric vehicles and as a pilot for the rest of Europe,” due to the country’s “relatively small size.”
Renault isn’t the only company eying Ireland as an early market for plug-in vehicles. Tesla delivered its first Roadster to the country late last month, and in a release about the milestone Tesla called Ireland “extremely well suited to the Roadster,” emphasizing the island’s renewable energy resources, plus incentives like waivers on vehicle registration and road taxes, free metered parking, and use of the carpool and bus lanes in some places.
Back in November 2008, electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place also had designs on the Irish market — saying preliminary research suggested 82 percent of consumers there “would be more likely to buy an electric car if the vehicle benefited from lower levels of tax.”
At the time, Better Place said the country represented “one of the many markets we are actively evaluating.” But when contacted for an update on any plans to enter the Irish market this morning, a Better Place spokesperson told us the company has “nothing specific at this time.”
The startup has set up operating companies in Denmark and Israel, countries that — like Ireland and unlike the sprawling mass of the U.S. — offer relatively small, manageable geographies and markets for initial EV infrastructure deployments. Similar to the handful of smart grid projects slated for islands like Malta, these EV initiatives could provide valuable info and data about how an entire community and national grid responds to new tools and technology.
Better Place also has an operating company in Australia, the world’s sixth-largest country by area. And Better Place founder Shai Agassi has described the country as a testing ground for larger markets with longer distances between urban centers.
When it comes to accelerating a country’s electric car rollout and infrastructure buildout, however, the structure of the utility industry may be even more important than the geography. Utilities represent key partners for EV and charge point makers, and according to Mark Duvall, Director of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Electric Transportation team, countries with “monolithic utility industries,” as opposed to the U.S. system of some 3,000 utilities and 50 utility commissions, can make decisions and roll out public charging stations more quickly.
“The U.S. has the most complex utility structure in the world,” Nancy Gioia, Director of Ford Global Electrification, has told us. As a result, “Other parts of the world are very much driving this change.”
For more research on electric vehicles see GigaOM Pro:
California Rules Show Opportunities in EV Charging
Why Microsoft’s Electric Vehicle Deal With Ford Matters
Photos courtesy of NASA Visible Earth and Tesla Motors