26 Nov 2018

Norway's EV revolution: can NZ catch up?

From Nine To Noon, 9:26 am on 26 November 2018

Norway is the undisputed world-leader in electric vehicle (EV) uptake, but not because Norwegians are more conscious of the environment than the rest of us, the head of the country's EV association says.

Norwegian EV drivers benefit from low purchase taxes, free parking and free charging in public places and no annual road tax. Road toll charges are waived and electric cars are allowed to use bus lanes.

Christina Bu

Christina Bu Photo: Drive Electric

This has driven exponential growth, Secretary-General of the Norway Electric Vehicle Association (NEVA) Christina Bu says.

"It takes a long time to change a fleet right now. Seven percent of the total fleet in Norway are full electric vehicles," Bu says.

The rate's even higher for some of the cities. 

"For example, Oslo more than 10 percent of the cars are EVs, and in Bergen it's about 14 percent."

Once Norwegians are used to the idea of driving an EV as their main vehicle, they are hooked, she says.

"They say price was the main reason why they got the car, but when they get the car they also say they never want to go back and we also have data saying people get more environmentally friendly after buying an electric car."

EV ownership has rocketed.

"In Norway in 2012, the market share of new [EV] vehicles was 3 percent. This year it's 28 percent almost six years later, but it could have been a lot higher if there were more cars to buy.

"It's a very steep increase, it's a little bit slow at the beginning because people don't know what it is and then it just grows at an incredible rate."

Alongside the proverbial carrots, the Norwegian government also uses a big stick for polluting vehicles.

"We have a long history of taxing cars in general, and the taxes are higher on the cars that pollute more," Bu says.

Kick-starting the market has also made Norway more attractive to manufacturers.

"The four most sold cars in Norway this year are all battery electric vehicles, topmost is the Nissan Leaf the new version, second is the electric Golf, third is the BMW i3 and the fourth is Tesla model X."

Norway imports all of its cars, she says. Norwegians buy 150,000 new cars a year and of those 28 percent in 2018 were electric, which in turn means it will soon have a viable second-hand market.

She says that if New Zealand wants to drive this sector, it too should look at the carrot and stick approach.

"Of course, it's the price tag that really matters. Consumers are conservative and buying a car is the second-most expensive thing you do after buying a home. You cannot expect people and companies to pay out a lot more for technology they are even unsure of."

The 'feebate' suggested by the New Zealand Productivity commission would be a good policy direction, she says. Sweden and Costa Rica have both introduced similar schemes.

"You put an extra tax on the most polluting new cars, using that money to subsidise the zero- and low-emission cars."

However, Norway's success with getting widespread demand for EVs has brought with it infrastructure problems.

"People in Norway now buy these cars as their first car. That means they also want to use these cars on the weekends - and that's when you need fast charging.

"The challenge is, Norway already has 190,000 fully electric vehicles on the road; we will probably if we have a steady increase in the sales up until 2025 - we might have more than a million battery electric vehicles - and that means we need a lot more fast chargers.

"Right now we have 1600 [EVs] can fast-charge at the same time. More are being built, but we still have queuing problems at peak hours."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced a package in May last year to encourage a widespread switch to electric cars.

Fast-charge stations are in demand in Norway, with lines forming at the weekends.  Photo: 123RF

With growing demand comes a business case for offering fast charge points, however - and supermarkets, service stations and fast food outlets in Norway are doing just that.

"We are actually talking about disruptiveness here - disruptive technology.

"We will see that the price of battery-operated vehicles will come down, battery prices are coming down, but it also has to do with the sheer volume of the production.

"Sometime before 2025, these cars will be more cheap to produce, and then we will see a catch-up effect globally."

Battery technology is also improving dramatically - so much that Norway is investing in electric ferries and even planning to have all domestic aviation electric by 2040.

"Nobody thought this was possible just a few years ago.

"This is going really fast, this is happening and it's happening right now - and it's happening faster than anyone can imagine."

Christina Bu is in New Zealand as part of a national tour of high-level events in conjunction with Drive ElectricMeridian Energyand EECA.