A country fuelled by hydropower has become the worlds electrical vehicle leader

In 1995, the lead singer of the 1980 s party -Aha and the head of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona clambered improbably into a converted electric Fiat Panda they had imported from Switzerland and set off on a superhighway trip.

They drove around Oslo refusing to pay the city’s sky-high superhighway tolls, parking illegally wherever they could, and discounting every disadvantage notice they were given. Eventually, the authorities impounded their automobile and auctioned it off to cover the fines.

But the stunt allured massive media attention, and the point was manufactured. Soon after, electrical vehicles were exempted from road tolls, one of a large raft of motivations that have, over the years, helped realise Norway the country with the world’s highest per capita electrical vehicle ownership.

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Last month, in an economy hit by the coronavirus crisis, amply electric cars accounted for exactly under 60% of Norway’s brand-new automobile market, and plug-in composites merely over 15%- signify three in four of all brand-new vehicles sold were either utterly or partially electric.

It still has some method to go, but the country seems on route to meet a government target- set in 2016, with full cross-party parliamentary support- of phasing out the sale of all brand-new fossil-fuel based automobiles and light-footed commercial vehicles by 2025.

” It’s actually pretty amazing how fast the mindset’s changed ,” said Christina Bu of the Norwegian EV Electric Vehicle Association.” Even in 2013 or 2014, beings were sceptical. Now, majority decisions of Norwegians will say: my next automobile will be electric .”

The story of how and why that has happened has a straightforward, if unexpected reasoning. First, despite has become a major oil and gas producer, virtually all of Norway’s domestic energy comes from a single, and renewable, root: hydropower.

That signifies swapping to EVs is a much greener alternative for Norway than for countries whose power is generated primarily by coal plants- and that if it wants to significantly reduce its release heights, it has little choice but to green its transport sector.

Driven by the environmental imperative, the government began offering incentives to buy and operate electric cars as far back as 1990, first by introducing a temporary exception from Norway’s exorbitant vehicle purchase tax, which became permanent six years later.

” This was an important step ,” Bu said.” Norway was a very poor country before we discovered oil; autoes were a indulgence piece. They’ve always been taxed very highly. Autoes in Norway are a lot more expensive than elsewhere. Without the acquisition excise, the cost of an electric car mostly fell to that of an ordinary automobile .”

Since then, electric car moves have been given the right to park free of charge in some municipal car parks, drive in bus corridors, take boats without a ticket and, thanks to -Aha, drive toll-free. They are not required to pay VAT on their autoes, or road imposition, and companionship electric cars are taxed at a lower charge than petrol or diesel vehicles.

Some measures have changed over the years: to be allowed to drive in a bus path, for example, you now need to be carrying a passenger. A so-called 50% regulation adopted in 2017, permitting local authorities to charge EV drivers up to 50% of the parking costs, street tolls and ferrying frequencies be applied to fossil-fuel vehicles.

But overall, said Bu, the” compounding of a big one-off saving when you buy the car, plus the substantially lower costs- gasoline, fees, parking, maintenance- of actually driving it, still adds up to a very powerful financial arguing. Over its lifetime, you really save a lot of money with an electric car in Norway .”

That was certainly what persuaded Wenche Charlotte Egelund, 57, who purchased a VW Golf Electric with her spouse two years ago when they moved out of central Oslo.” The incentives were crucial ,” she said.” The tax and VAT exceptions, free municipal parking, free toll roads that mean we avoid paying rush-hour traffic jams .”

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EV bill stations at Kongens Gate near Akershus Festning in Oslo. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

In fact, Egelund said, the incentives were so significant that she almost” felt the decision was imposed on me. Financially, it was like there was no other sensible option. I do wonder whether it really is as light-green as we are told. Is a car operating on clean diesel actually worse than the environmental impact of producing an EV battery ?”

Rachel Ritman, 56, a postwoman living on the outskirts of Fredrikstad, bought her Opel Ampera two years ago and said she has not regretted her pick, even if she was ” not sure we would have gone electrical without the incentives “. The car’s range was good, she said: 250 miles( 400 km) in summer, 200 miles( 320 km) in winter and because she charges at home she does not suffer from ” lade-angst”, or the concerns of running out of juice.

Both Ritman and Egelund have a second, diesel-powered car for extra-long expeditions, to country rooms or holidays. Sten Brathen, 55, a media consultant, bought his Nissan Leaf as a second car” for taking the children around and driving to work. But there were so many advantages that “when hes” getting a brand-new central car last year we didn’t think twice about departing electrical .”

Government incentives were vital in the decision to buy, Brathen said:” I think we would have managed without the other incentives- free toll roads and parking- but the actual cost of buying was so much lower than ordinary vehicles here in Norway .” He warned, though, that Norway was going to need more accusing stations.

Despite the incentives, EV marketings in Norway remained low until about 2010, when a number of smaller, more inexpensive electric cars from creators such as Mitsubishi and Nissan came to market, and improved technology signified big electric cars began to offer both the opening and range to represent them a sensible option for families.

Bu said the incentives were so significant that” many people say they’ve bought the most expensive car they’ve ever had when they buy electrical- Teslas, Jaguars, that kind of model- simply because they’ve calculated what kind of saving they’re going to be realise over the coming years, and feel better realise feel “.

That has led to accusations that Norway’s encouragement of electric vehicles amounts to little more than tax gashes for the rich, or a cut-price second vehicle. Numerous Norwegians on lower incomes can only dream of owning an electric car, and three out of four gondola acquisitions are on the secondhand market.

Bu- whose organisation represents shoppers rather than creators- spurned this, arguing that” we have to change the cars we drive, and the only way to do that is to change the new autoes. We can’t modify used ones “. EVs will soon make up 10% of Norway’s fare fleet, she said, and are slowly coming on to the used market.

She said she was confident for the future of electrical vehicles, even in countries without a big renewable capability sector, and studies show that EVs flowing on dominance generated from fossil fuel are responsible for roughly the same level of overall CO 2 radiations as petrol cars.

” As a society, we clearly is therefore necessary to do two things ,” she said.” Produce more renewable energy and commodities- like autoes- that can run on it ,” she said.” We is therefore necessary to do both, as swiftly as possible. We can’t hang around until we’re create 100% renewable energy resources .”

Electric gondolas are” never going to be truly environmentally friendly”, Bu said.” The primary problem is clearing the artilleries. We need clean battery creators in Europe. But seem, we need transport. We need automobiles and vans, specially outside our metropolis. And for us, electrical is the answer .”

This storey shall form part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to differentiate the 50 th anniversary of Earth Day. The Guardian is the lead partner in Covering Climate Now, a world-wide journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate storey .

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