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

In 1995, the lead singer of the 1980 s party -Aha and the head of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona climbed improbably into a converted electric Fiat Panda they had imported from Switzerland and went 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 vehicle and auctioned it off to cover the fines.

But the stunt lured massive media attention, and the point was made. Soon after, electric vehicles were exempted from road tolls, one of a large raft of incentives that have, over the years, facilitated shape 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 to be taken into consideration simply under 60% of Norway’s new automobile market, and plug-in hybrids only over 15%- signify three in four of all brand-new autoes sold were either utterly or partially electric.

It still has some way to go, but the country sounds 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 gondolas and light-footed commercial vehicles by 2025.

” It’s actually pretty 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, majority decisions of Norwegians will say: my next automobile will be electrical .”

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

That makes switching to EVs is a much greener option for Norway than for countries whose power is generated chiefly by coal bushes- and that if it wants to significantly reduce its radiation levels, it has little choice but to green its transport sector.

Driven by the environmental imperative, the government began offering incentives to buy and move electric cars as far back as 1990, first by introducing a temporary exemption 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 detected oil; automobiles were a luxury piece. They’ve always been levied very highly. Automobiles in Norway are a lot more expensive than abroad. Without the acquire excise, the cost of an electric car mostly descended to that of an ordinary gondola .”

Since then, electric car drivers have been given the right to park for free in some municipal parking lot, drive in bus corridors, take ferries without air tickets and, thanks to -Aha, drive toll-free. They are not required to pay VAT on their gondolas, or road tax, and company 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 lane, for example, you now need to be carrying air passengers. A so-called 50% pattern adopted in 2017, giving local authorities to charge EV operators up to 50% of the parking fees, street tolls and ferrying proportions 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- gasoline, fees, parking, maintenance- of actually driving it, still includes up to a very powerful fiscal debate. 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 partner two years ago when they moved out of central Oslo.” The incentives is of paramount importance ,” she said.” The charge and VAT exemptions, free municipal parking, free toll roads that mean we avoid the rush-hour traffic congestion .”

EV blame 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 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 light-green as we are told. Is a vehicle moving on clean diesel certainly 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 pick, even though they are 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 charges 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 compartments or vacations. 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” get a new primary automobile last year we didn’t think twice about croaking electric .”

Government motivations 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 autoes here in Norway .” He forewarned, 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 creators such as Mitsubishi and Nissan came to market, and improved technology intended large electric cars began to offer both the infinite and range to become 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 make-up over the coming years, and feel it clears gumption “.

That has led to accusations that Norway’s encouragement of electric vehicles amounts to little more than tax slashes 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 automobile acquisitions are on the secondhand market.

Bu- whose organisation represents buyers rather than makes- 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 automobiles. We can’t modify 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 power sphere, and studies show that EVs lope on superpower generated from fossil fuel are responsible for roughly the same level of overall CO 2 releases as petrol cars.

” As national societies, we clearly is therefore necessary to do two things ,” she said.” Produce more renewable energy and commodities- like cars- that can run on it ,” she said.” We is therefore necessary to do both, as swiftly as possible. We can’t has been dragging on until we’re raise 100% renewable energy .”

Electric cars are” never going to be truly environmentally friendly”, Bu said.” The prime question is representing the artilleries. We need clean artillery creators in Europe. But seem, we need transport. We need gondolas and vans, specially outside our metropolitans. And for us, electrical provides answers .”

This floor is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to label 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 floor .


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