Too good at being green? Norway can’t keep up with electric-car boom

Sigrid Harms –

Oslo has a problem that might make other environmentally conscious cities green with envy: The residents in the Norwegian capital are buying so many electric vehicles, the local government can barely keep up. In fact, the electric car association is even discouraging drivers from buying an electric vehicle if they don’t have an option of charging it at home. The local authority has not kept pace with the expansion of charging stations in relation to the number of cars sold, says Petter Haugneland, spokesman from e-vehicle association Norsk Elbilforening.

The proportion of newly registered electric and hybrid cars is at 35 per cent, he says. “So 1 in 3 new cars sold in Norway is electric.” In the capital, Oslo, that figure is as high as 40 per cent. Some 50,000 electric vehicles and 30,000 chargeable hybrid cars are currently registered in the greater Oslo area, according to Sture Portvik, from the city’s Agency for Urban Environment. Meanwhile, there are just 1,300 municipal charging stations.
“We are doing our best,” says Portvik. “Every year we install 26 per cent more charging stations, but the number of e-cars has risen by more than 100 per cent.
The gap is only getting bigger and bigger.”
One of the main reasons for the e-vehicle boom is due to the financial advantages that the state offers, waiving value-added, import and motor vehicle taxes.
This means that the electric version of many cars is cheaper than one with an internal-combustion engine.
“In Norway you pay around 250, 000 Norwegian krone ($31,475) for an e-Golf and around 300,000 krone for a petrol Golf.
So that’s some difference,” Haugneland says.
Drivers can also park and charge for free in many districts, and they don’t pay any toll fees.
While this financial support costs the state a great deal of money, the Norwegian parliament has decided to keep it in place until 2020.
One reason for all this: The ambitious commitment that, by 2025, all newly registered cars in Norway should be zero-emissions vehicles.
This is to be achieved using a carrot-and-stick approach: The carrot takes the form of tax exemptions for those driving e-vehicles, while the stick is high taxes and petrol prices for those who stick with fossil fuels.
Experts Haugneland and Portvik are of the opinion that the 2025 goal can be achieved; the local authority just has to keep up.
The biggest challenge at the moment, says Portvik, is that 60 per cent of Oslo’s population lives in an apartment, and not in a house with a garage where someone can charge his or her vehicle overnight.
For this reason, housing cooperatives and large rental companies are being urged to fit their parking garages with power sockets.
However, increasing the number of charging stations is not the solution, Portvik says.
“We have to ensure that the system becomes more effective,” he says, stressing the need for smarter, faster chargers and places where people can charge not only their car, but also other forms of electric transport, including bikes, scooters and more.
Norway, where 98 per cent of energy is generated from hydropower, is ideally suited to be a guinea pig. The electric car association receives visits from abroad at least twice a week, from journalists, politicians and industry representatives.
“We are a good test market,” explains Haugneland. “Our members test it here in real life, this isn’t a lab.
We are showing how the market could look in other countries in a few years.”
Norway depends on other countries following its lead and contributing to getting this market off the ground, says Haugneland.
He hopes that in Germany in particular, there will be a transition — even if critics say that e-cars in Germany are not environmentally friendly because they use electricity generated from brown coal.
“We can’t wait until all electricity is renewable before we begin replacing our automobile fleet.
This has to happen in parallel.”
With the constant expansion of renewable energy, electric cars are getting cleaner and cleaner every year, Haugneland says. — dpa