Friday, January 25, 2008

The Iceland Magic


Much of the investing world may be down on hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies, particularly those related to automobiles. But Iceland, the tiny volcanic country that gets most of its power from geothermal and hydroelectric energy, continues to push forward on its multi-decade plan of being a center for hydrogen innovation and deployment. It makes sense, given the country is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and rather they be the test bed for these technologies than North America.
Jon Bjorn Skulason, who heads up Icelandic New Energy, predicts in this Reuters article that by 2035 most of Iceland's road vehicles could be hydrogen-fuelled. More interesting, perhaps, is that in April the country will launch the world's first hydrogen-powered commercial vessel. The goal is to prove that hydrogen fuel cells can be used on ships and boats, and the longer-term plan is to convert Iceland's fishing fleet to hydrogen. It makes more sense than cars, and as with stationary fuel-cell applications, there could be an actual market for fuel-cell powered ships. Kudos to Iceland for giving it a try and letting the rest of the world watch. I got a chance to visit Iceland back in 2004. Rode on one of its first hydrogen buses in Reykjavik. Toured geothermal plants. Swam in the Blue Lagoon. It was awesome. But the uniqueness of the country also means a hydrogen economy may have limited application in regions of the world that aren't blessed with the same renewable resources.

And we can't help think: With all that cheap, abundant renewable energy, wouldn't it make just as much sense -- if not more -- to embrace electric transportation using batteries? Iceland may well become an all-hydrogen microcosm on the world stage, but being such a small market, does it risk alienating itself from the rest of the world and ultimately hurting itself economically?

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