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

In 1995, the lead singer of the 1980 s band -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 road fees, parking illegally wherever they could, and rejecting every sanction notice they were given. Eventually, the authorities concerned impounded their automobile and auctioned it off to cover the fines.

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

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Last month, in an economy hit by the coronavirus crisis, fully electric cars to be taken into consideration merely under 60% of Norway’s brand-new car sell, and plug-in composites precisely over 15%- gist three in four members of all new autoes sold were either wholly or partially electric.

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

” It’s actually quite amazing how quickly the mindset’s changed ,” said Christina Bu of the Norwegian EV Electric Vehicle Association.” Even in 2013 or 2014, parties were sceptical. Now, a majority of Norwegians will say: my next gondola is likely to be electric .”

The story of how and why that has happened has a straightforward, if unexpected logic. First, despite being a major oil and gas producer, almost all of Norway’s domestic vitality comes from a single, and renewable, source: hydropower.

That signifies switching 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 levels, it has little choice but to green its transport sector.

Driven by the environmental imperative, the government began offering incentives to buy and lope 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 represents an important step ,” Bu said.” Norway was a very poor country before we detected petroleum; cars were a indulgence piece. They’ve always been taxed very highly. Autoes in Norway are a lot more expensive than elsewhere. Without the acquire charge, the cost of an electric car basically fell to that of an everyday automobile .”

Since then, electric car motorists have been given the right to park for free in some municipal parking lot, drive in bus corridors, take shuttles without air tickets and, thanks to -Aha, drive toll-free. They are not required to pay VAT on their gondolas, or road levy, and corporation electric cars are taxed at a lower proportion 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% rule was introduced in 2017, letting local authorities to charge EV moves up to 50% of the parking fees, street tolls and ferrying charges applicable to fossil-fuel vehicles.

But overall, said Bu, the” combining of a big one-off saving when you buy the car, plus the substantially lower costs- ga, fees, parking, maintenance- of actually driving it, still adds up to a very powerful financial contention. Over its lifetime, “youve been” save a great deal of money with an electric car in Norway .”

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

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EV charge terminals 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 green as we are told. Is a auto ranging on clean diesel truly 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 choice, even if she was ” not sure we would have gone electrical without the incentives “. The car’s stray was good, she said: 250 miles( 400 km) in summer, 200 miles( 320 km) in wintertime and because she bills 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 tours, to country compartments 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” going a brand-new main gondola last year we didn’t think twice about get electric .”

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

Despite the incentives, EV sales in Norway remained low until about 2010, when a number of smaller, more inexpensive electric cars from makers such as Mitsubishi and Nissan came to market, and improved technology made large electric cars began to offer both the cavity and range to oblige them a sensible alternative for families.

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

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

Bu- whose organisation represents purchasers rather than makes- accepted this, is considered 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 alter used ones “. EVs will soon make up 10% of Norway’s passenger fleet, she said, and are slowly coming on to the used market.

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

” As national societies, we clearly is therefore necessary to do two things ,” she said.” Produce more renewables and makes- like cars- that can run on it ,” she said.” We is therefore necessary to do both, as fast as possible. We can’t hang around until we’re producing 100% renewable energy resources .”

Electric automobiles are” never going to be truly environmentally friendly”, Bu said.” The main problem is clearing the batteries. We need clean artillery creators in Europe. But seem, we need transport. We need cars and vans, specially outside our cities. And for us, electric is the answer .”

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

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