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

In 1995, the lead singer of the 1980 s band -Aha and the head of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona climbed improbably into a converted electrical 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 discounting every retribution notice they were given. Eventually, the authorities confiscated their automobile and auctioned it off to cover the fines.

But the stunt attracted massive media attention, and the point was did. Soon after, electric vehicles were exempted from road fees, one of a large raft of motivations that have, over the years, facilitated constitute 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, amply electric cars to be taken into consideration simply under 60% of Norway’s new car market, and plug-in hybrids just over 15%- mean three in four members of all brand-new vehicles sold were either wholly or partially electric.

It still has some way to go, but “the two countries ” gazes on course 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 vehicles 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, 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, virtually all of Norway’s domestic intensity comes from a single, and renewable, root: hydropower.

That intends switching to EVs is a much greener option for Norway than for countries whose power is generated primarily by coal bushes- and that if it wants to significantly reduce its release degrees, it has little choice but to light-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 lubricant; vehicles were a indulgence item. They’ve always been levied very highly. Automobiles in Norway are a lot more expensive than elsewhere. Without the acquisition tax, the cost of an electric car basically descended to that of an ordinary auto .”

Since then, electric car operators have been given the right to park for free in some municipal car parks, drive in bus paths, take ferries without a ticket and, thanks to -Aha, drive toll-free. They are not required to pay VAT on their automobiles, or road imposition, and corporation electric cars are taxed at a lower frequency than petrol or diesel vehicles.

Some measures have changed over the years: to be allowed to drive in a bus corridor, for example, you now need to be carrying a passenger. A so-called 50% ruler was introduced in 2017, granting local authorities to charge EV operators up to 50% of the parking fees, street fees and shuttle rates 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- fuel, fees, parking, upkeep- of actually driving it, still adds up to a very powerful financial argument. 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 bought a VW Golf Electric with her collaborator two years ago when they moved out of central Oslo.” The motivations were crucial ,” she said.” The tax and VAT exceptions, free municipal parking, free toll roads that means that we are avoid the rush-hour traffic jam .”

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

In fact, Egelund said, the incentives were so significant that she nearly” felt the decision was imposed on me. Financially, it was like there was no other sensible alternative. I do wonder whether it really is as green as we are told. Is a car loping on clean diesel genuinely 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 repented her option, even though they are she was ” not sure we would have gone electrical without the incentives “. The car’s reach 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 “re running out of” juice.

Both Ritman and Egelund have a second, diesel-powered car for extra-long jaunts, to country huts 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 central automobile last year we didn’t think twice about croaking electrical .”

Government incentives is of crucial importance 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 cars here in Norway .” He told, 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 affordable electric cars from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi and Nissan came to market, and improved technology intended larger electric cars began to offer both the space and range to obligate them a sensible option for families.

Bu said the incentives were so significant that” many people say they’ve purchase 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 make-up over the coming years, and feel better clears gumption “.

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

Bu- whose organisation represents consumers rather than farmers- scorned this, arguing that” we have to change the cars we drive, and the only way to do that is to change the brand-new gondolas. We can’t reform 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 ability sector, and studies show that EVs function on influence generated from fossil fuel are responsible for roughly the same level of overall CO 2 releases as petrol cars.

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

Electric cars are” never going to be truly environmentally friendly”, Bu said.” The prime difficulty is clearing the batteries. We need clean artillery makes in Europe. But ogle, we need transport. We need autoes and vans, especially outside our cities. And for us, electrical is the answer .”

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

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