Norway, electric vehicles, and a trip to my ancestral home

The town of Hovland, Norway

The town of Hovland, Norway

I am a good part Norwegian. My name, Hovland, comes from a very small town set between a fjord and steep mountains. There is just enough space for a little farming: mostly apples, occasionally some plums. Sheep graze under the apple trees. In the town, there used to be a factory that made wool, which then was a brewery, and now bottles water from the Isklar glacier, which is across the fjord but visible from the town of Hovland. There were originally two farms. “Hov” means from the farmstead (or ‘hay’ land). My father’s father’s father came from Norway and moved to America.

Visiting my ancestral town helped me understand that my love of mountains and glaciers and apples but also the sea and boats comes a little from my blood.

NorwayWaterfall.jpg

Norwegians know how to do some amazing things. Like bore long tunnels through hard rock and mountains. One road even went over itself in a circle, just down a few tens of feet. Or garner clean power from water, with hydro plants taking advantage of each elevation drop of water. It helps that the mountains tower above many towns, such as Odda.

What brought me here? Electric vehicles. Norway is leading the world in uptake of electric vehicles (almost 40 percent of new light duty vehicles are EVs currently); part of what I do professionally is work to increase uptake of EVs and more broadly to advance clean, low-carbon transportation. A few colleagues and I wanted to come to the source to see what this small Scandinavian country was doing to see such transformational results.

In the States, we are working to push EVs beyond a boutique product, beyond first movers, beyond the enviros. Sales are less than two percent nationally (0.9 percent in 2016[1]), though they are higher in some places (such as California), and are growing. Think about what two percent of something means: less than 30 minutes of a day, less than what one spends on city taxes. Now think about 40 percent: 9.5 hours of a day, more than what one might spend on housing from an income. That is something to catch your attention!

So where is Norway on EVs, how did they get here, and how do they move forward? They are beyond the first movers and moving into mainstream. They are beyond the myths and have moved into early mass market.

** The availability of EV models was a huge driver in uptake, not only driven by supportive financial (tax-free EVs) and other incentives (free toll roads, parking). It was the 1990’s when the government passed the policy related to EV exemption from purchase taxes and value-added-taxes, originally to support local industry and the EV company Think Global, but only in the past few years (when models have become increasingly available) have the sales skyrocketed. Norway continues to have a broader climate-friendly tax policy for cars whereby taxes increase as the CO2 intensity increases.

** They have proven that cold weather and EVs can go together (even though the range lowers). One owner in Bodø proudly touts that it is easier to start an EV in -30C weather than a combustion engine (no ‘engine warmers’ needed)!

** They have moved past early concerns such as range anxiety (will a car I may buy have enough energy to get me where I want to go?) into charger availability anxiety (how long will I need to wait when I drive up in my EV to a fast charging station whose chargers are all full? What do I do if I need to charge overnight using public charging stations because I live in multi-family housing, but they are full?). A proposed policy in Oslo would require 100 percent of new buildings to be EV ready, addressing an issue of multi-family charging availability.

** They moved past early-adopter promotions such as free tolls or free parking into long-term policies that always prioritize low-carbon modes by passing rules such as one that requires any EV charges (tolls, ferries, parking) be a maximum of half of fees for petrol-based vehicles.

** They have moved beyond initial placement for and having some fast charging to large-scale fast-charger planning. Currently, less than 15 percent of EV owners use fast chargers weekly. But as more and more cars are electrified, fast charging will become more important. They established a country-wide plan for EV chargers every 50 km, bundling long stretches awarded to private EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) providers (who receive government support) to avoid the problem where providers might only install chargers in high-density, high-use areas such as downtown Oslo.

** They have moved beyond the problem of finding charging service providers (there are over 1,000 fast chargers at over 550 stations hosted by a mix of providers), to nuances of the best way to charge for charging – most charge by the minute (and not by kWh), but a better way might be by both minute and kilowatt-hour (this can minimize wait time at chargers, as it takes into account that batteries charge fastest when they are at a lower state of charge, but charge more slowly as the battery gets filled up). In the future, you may be able to adjust your power level (kW charging) and also see your cost adjusted accordingly.

** They have moved beyond boutique and lower-range vehicles to higher-range and larger EVs. Ones that can fit the whole family. But the demand exceeds availability. Wait times for upcoming EVs are long. Television commercials advertise EVs that won’t be available for another 1.5 years!

** They are moving from battery-EVs having free access to bus lanes to BEV2+ (available when there are 2 or more people in the car).

** Higher power loads of EVs charging from the grid has not given the utilities pause. Norway gets most of its electricity from hydro, which means they don’t have to worry about grid stability or challenges with large-scale integration of intermittent renewables (solar and wind). This makes it much easier for the power sector to absorb high penetration of (and charging) EVs. Norwegians also use power for heat, so they are used to large demands in the winter – they have a huge incentive to be able to deal with large loads and keep the power on “to keep old people from dying.”

** Norway continues to be a leader regarding country-wide and city policies to reduce CO2 emissions. But there will always be challenges, including one a few days before we arrived where politicians (in the minority party) announced their intention to eliminate the vehicle tax benefits. The challenge is aggressively being fought against.

Me on Trolltunga, Norway

Me on Trolltunga, Norway

I found it exciting to see so much progress on EVs, and to think through how to work on policies and efforts that have the end goal in mind. Driving around town, it is busy game to play spot the EV – here is a Leaf, there goes an i3, I spot a Tesla Model X, see that VW e-Golf, oh there is a Model S, a Renault ZOE! Even the Trolltunga Guesthouse, in Tyssedal (south of Hovland and north of Odda on the Sorfjorden fjord, and a good basecamp for the demanding 17-mile roundtrip hike to Trolltunga – troll’s tongue, see picture), has a Tesla Level 2 charger, put it at their own expense.

As it turns out, pursuing EVs is also in my blood.

 

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Please note that these are some first impressions after limited research and a wonderful meeting with the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association – much more insight and lessons are sure to be gained with more involvement (one such opportunity is the Nordic EV Summit that the Norwegian EV Association is holding February 1-2, 2018 in Oslo).

[1] IEA Global EV Outlook, https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf