Oslo City Council’s commitment to electric vehicles, and their record numbers on its roads, are second to none. What lies behind such an impressive growth? What’s the city’s secret, and can it be reproduced elsewhere?
The growth in electric vehicle (EV) use in Norway has been pretty remarkable of late. With a population of just five million, by December 2016 the country boasted over 100,000 electric vehicles on its roads, making it number one in the world in terms of electric cars per capita. This boost has been driven by concerns such as pollution, carbon emissions, climate change, and most importantly, a concerted political will to do something about it.
The country aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, and other green transport commitments are also working in the same direction.
Why Are EVs so Popular in Oslo?
As of summer 2015, the City of Oslo alone (population 650,000) had over 19,000 EVs on its roads. Through a raft of incentives, and the application of ‘polluter pays’ principles on its gas guzzling cars, the city has been able to entice more and more people to go electric.
Free parking, free charging at public stations, free access to bus lanes, toll exemptions, and no sales tax have all allowed EVs to position themselves as a viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars, which have been hit with increasing taxation.
Add to that the city’s support for EV infrastructure and charging stations, with public funding for new chargers set up by private companies and voila: the remarkable rise of the EV in Oslo is partly explained.
The energy source is also key here. Norway’s abundant renewable and non-renewable energy sources enable it to subsidise the charging of electric cars at public stations. From an environmental point of view however, EV policy can be deemed a success only if supported entirely by renewable energy. Oslo EV drivers are fortunate to be able to rely on the abundant hydro-power energy that powers the city, making their EV fleet one of the cleanest in the world.
However, research on EV use in Norway reveals that EV vehicles tend not to replace, but are bought in addition to a main car, with only 21% of EV owners relying on the one vehicle, whereas 71% also own a petrol or diesel vehicle. So although EVs are becoming more mainstream, it would seem that, possibly due to ‘range’ concerns (away from city centres, and in the more remote corners of the country people are justifiably more worried about running out of charge) people are not yet fully committed to them.
Could It Happen Elsewhere?
While Oslo’s policy success might seem like a happy mix of zero-emissions-vehicles incentives, charging station subsidies, ‘polluters pay’ penalties and an abundance of renewable energy sources, none of this would be possible without the political will and courage of local and national government officials to go down a road less travelled.
As the renewable energy share of the market continues to grow, and as EV technology also becomes more competitive, successful zero-emissions transport policies, air-quality improvements, and carbon emissions reductions needn’t be exceptional outcomes in exceptional places.
Given the consensus on climate change and man-made emissions, the growing momentum in the ‘fossil fuels divest’ movement, and the notoriety of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the public have probably never been so ready to embrace electric mobility. While at the European level an incumbent car industry is still managing to delay the unavoidable in some respects, Oslo shows us that bold politics at the local level can and do work.