In Slovenia, a project named EgoZero is aiming to create zero-emission car holidays through a new way of using electric cars. Could it work?
A car holiday without CO2 emissions. It sounds a utopian scenario, yet in Slovenia, a research institute has embarked upon a project to make it happen. The idea is that people rent an electric car, then log onto an online portal to customise their journey through Slovenia, handpicking the hotels, restaurants and activities to visit along the way. At each stop, the car is left at a recharging station to fill up. With Slovenia being a relatively small country, distances between stops are short, enabling the car to retain power throughout the journey. The result is a holiday of attractions, beautiful natural landscapes and zero carbon emissions.
The concept has long been brewing inside the Institute for Civilisation and Culture, an independent scientific body based in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, that focuses on long-term, carbon-friendly innovation. Whereas electric cars in the past have tended to be produced small, expensive and with limited battery capacity, the researchers noted that vehicles are now becoming cheaper, more comfortable and more durable. In addition, the number of power charging stations is increasing. The missing link was a framework to make use of it all.
“The way of bringing this idea to life was to calculate the route, and what is possible to do with an electric car, depending on winter time or summer time,” says Andrej Brglez, the project manager. Through short routes and frequent stops, he discovered, a journey could be designed where the car battery never runs out – even in winter, when its capacity shrinks. “When people travel, they do stops and enjoy them. And when their car is in the parking area, it should be refilled with energy. And that is the problem with the capacity of the batteries solved.”
The travellers, of course, must have reasons to make the stops, but that’s no problem in Slovenia. The nature is, quite frankly, stunning, with snow-clad mountains, healthy forests and quiet blue lakes offering sights on par with other central European countries such as Switzerland and Austria, its northern neighbour. The roads go via charming towns and villages. EgoZero has included only eco-friendly resorts, with campsites and farmhouses on offer alongside regular hotels. Off the road, activities such as hiking, kayaking climbing, paragliding, cycling, skiing and snowboarding are available. Once the journey is customised online, it’s sent to the car’s navigation system, which calculates the exact route. All you need to do is drive.
“The market in Europe should be quite big because a lot of people would like to go closer to nature,” says Brglez. “They spend money on things like ecological food, but then they just forget about it.” He also believes Slovenia’s pure nature makes it ideal for the project. “For people who would like to stay one night in places where you don’t hear anything, where the phone signal isn’t working and where there is no pollution, this is the place. And if you can reach these destinations with an electric car, it’s quite fantastic.”
The idea is also interesting in light of the EU’s carbon trading scheme, and the international measures legally placed upon the European community by the UN’s Kyoto Protocol. Electric cars have huge potential for countries trying to cut carbon emissions. In terms of getting people to buy the cars, hurdles remain, primarily in the form of a shortage of electric power stations and unviable market prices compared to gasoline-based cars. But EgoZero trumps both problems, and could become of interest to European tourism boards.
Brglez also wants to link up with the car industry. “They have so many electric cars but they don’t sell them,” he says. “Tourism would be a great way to promote these cars. When people try them – and we’ve already tested them with groups of people – they see this as a different way of travelling and it opens their minds. Why not connect this with a product?”
For now however, the road ahead is one of promotional activities across Europe, particularly in Germany, Austria and Italy, and of continued work on the project. In the beginning the routes will cover only parts of Slovenia. But towards next year, the aim is to build a network across the country and expand into Austria. Financial backing remains sparse, but Brglez’s team is hoping investors will come as the project gathers pace, particularly within the energy sector, so that more power stations can be built.
Not that their targets are commercial, of course. “Since this can be copied, we would like to share this idea and give it to anybody,” Brglez says. “We are not an organisation who’d like to keep this to ourselves. We cannot do it in England, but if somebody else would be interested in doing it, they should. We just want to say that this is possible.”
Photos: Blaz Kure, Fesus Robert [both via Shutterstock.com], EgoZero.