Balearic government leans towards electric, as rental cars overrun islands

The government of the Balearic Islands drafts new law that requires rental car companies to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and to switch to a 100% electric fleet by 2030.

The new law, when enacted, will require rental car companies to increase the share of electric cars in their fleet by 10 percent a year starting in 2020. Which means that by 2025 half of the rental cars should be electric.

Queuing to rent at Goldcar (Palma Airport)

Getting ready for high season, which starts around Easter, rental car companies ship thousands of cars to the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera from the mainland.

About 90,000 rental cars clog the roads of Mallorca during the summer — with another 30,000 split between the other islands — offering tourists, and some locals, a cheap way to get around. Competition is fierce and, if you reserve a few weeks in advance, it is possible to rent a small car for less than $100 a week (incl. taxes).

At the end of the season, most of those cars remain on the islands, unfortunately. That’s because for the rental car companies, selling previously rented cars to residents on the islands is their main money-maker.

The result is that the islands have the highest density of vehicles in Spain, with 850 units per 1,000 inhabitants (not including vehicles registered on the mainland and circulating on the islands). The European Union’s average is 563 passenger car per 1,000 inhabitants.

Clogging the tourist spots in Mallorca (Source Hans on Pixabay)

Low-cost rental car companies such as Goldcar and Dollar have stickers on their cars advertising that they are for sale. Bigger rental car companies are happy to help car manufacturers, their main shareholders, to offload inventory, by selling the vehicles on the islands after a rental period of six months or 10,000 km.

The toll on the environment and impact on public transport on the islands has been enormous. Because of the density of cars and the demand to maintain and expand roads for private vehicles, fewer resources have been allocated to public transport, which is scarce and inefficient.

As almost all the cars and other motor vehicles are running on fossil fuels the islands are importing huge quantities of gasoline and diesel to meet demand. All those cars on the roads, especially during the summer, release a cloud of pollution, not to mention raising the noise level.

According to Marc Pons, Balearic minister of territory and mobility, 35% of emissions on the islands come from motor vehicles.

As the longest distance to travel in Mallorca, the largest island in the archipelago, is about 120 km (75 mi), a typical electric car can do a full round trip on a full battery in the same day. Also Mallorca already has over 230 public charging points for electric cars. The other three islands have 120 charging points, making electric mobility an easy, non-polluting choice. The government plans to invest 12 million euros to install an additional 500 public charging points in the next three years.

Current EV charging infrastructure (Source: Balearic Islands Gov.)

Changing the rental car fleets to 100% electric will not address congestion and public transport issues on the islands, but will reduce significantly the use of fossil fuels and thus air pollution. Also, electric cars are quieter, require less maintenance, and do not use additional pollutants such as motor oil.

The rental car companies, however, are not going down without a fight. They are complaining that starting in 2020 is not realistic because it will increase their operating costs and affect tourism on the islands.

As the islands move toward renewable energy, especially wind turbines, the fleet of electric vehicles could also help balance the grid in three ways: They would use surplus electricity during the night, which otherwise would be lost; they could also provide additional power in some areas during the day, using vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology; and their recycled batteries, after they have been used by a few years, would still be good enough for energy storage.

The new law is expected to reach the Balearic parliament before the end of March, with the goal of switching the islands to all electric by 2030. In fact, it’s possible that by 2025, buying a combustion-engine vehicle anywhere will be a thing of the past.

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