ISLANDERS living off the west coast are embarking on a power trip with a difference.
For the next three years some residents of the Aran Islands will drive electric cars, charged by wind power.
The unique experiment is being carried out by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in conjunction with the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.
It is aimed at monitoring the performance of the cars and the amount of wind-generated energy required to keep them motoring.
The project will also provide invaluable information about energy storage and the most cost-effective way of managing a family's transport needs.
Yesterday eight brand-new electric Mega e-City vehicles were handed over to their new owners who will drive them for a year. The cars have a top speed of 64kmh and a maximum range of 80km.
In year two of the project, a further eight families will drive the cars, while eight more households will use them in the third and final year.
The 24 users were chosen following an open competition on Inis Mor, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr. Each household has been fitted with an innovative smart charger unit which can be accessed remotely to allow matching of available wind power with requirements.
"It's very exciting. When I turned the car on, I didn't realise it was going because it was so quiet," said Caitriona Ni Bhuachalla.
"I applied to join the electric car project because this is such an environmentally-friendly idea and I am looking forward to driving it for the next year. It is a perfect car for the island," Caitriona added.
The Aran Islands currently draw a proportion of their electricity from wind farms on Inis Meain and at Inverin on the Connemara mainland.
Initially, the cars will be powered by a mix of wind power and electricity otherwise generated. But the proportion of wind-powered electricity will grow significantly as storage is improved.
Professor Owen Lewis, head of SEAI, pointed out that Ireland had the twin goals of replacing 10pc of its passenger vehicles with electric vehicles by 2020 and of exploiting the country's availability of renewable energy resources -- in particular wind.
He said: "Under government plans to put 6,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2012, a grant of €5,000 is available for the purchase of electric vehicles.
"This project on the Aran Islands is a significant step and is among the first initiatives worldwide to demonstrate the potential for electric vehicles fuelled by wind energy."