Norway’s seven lessons for a successful EV transition
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Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
I’m writing this having just arrived home from visiting EVS35 in Oslo. The enormous electric vehicle event brought together ministers, business leaders and policymakers at a critical point in the global EV transition.
My purpose for attending the show was to try and gather some insights about what we in the UK can learn from Norway, the global capital of EVs. To help me, I spoke with the 115,000-member strong Norwegian EV Association who provided seven areas to learn from.
I’m rather short on time for much else this week but have highlighted a couple of wider stories of note. As ever, if you have any questions or comments, please do drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply reply to this email. Likewise, feel free to forward it or share!
Seven lessons from Norway’s EV transition
“If you can make it happen here, you can make it happen anywhere”, exclaimed Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment. It’s the sort of statement that only people in a position of success could make, and Norway is certainly in one.
The Minister came to the stage of EVS35, held in Oslo, shortly after Christina Bu, Secretary General of Norway’s EV Association, had just revealed new data suggesting 79% of all new car purchases across the Nordic lands have been electric thus far in 2022. It’s little wonder that EV commentator and the event’s host, Roger Atkins, referred to her as the ‘Queen of EVs’.
While in total across the roads in Norway, EVs make up about 1 in 5 cars, they are still unquestionably leading the world on clean transport. So, as the Minister says, how can we make it happen here?
To find out, I spoke to Erik Lorentzen, Head of Analysis and Advisory Services at the Norwegian EV Association. He’s spent well over a decade working in the climate space – eight of which at the 50-person strong association – and works closely with policy development and the EV market with a specific focus on charging infrastructure. He knows his onions.
Over the course of an hour, of which I am very grateful to Erik, he talked me through the journey Norway had been on, what it had got right, and also what it could have done better. These were the top seven takeaways I pulled out from our conversation.
1. Hold onto incentives
Whereas the UK government has removed the plug-in grant for cars, Erik believes Norway’s greatest success has been the incentives to buy EVs. “We removed price as the main obstacle for buying an electric car,” he tells me. “It doesn’t matter if you build a charging network if people can’t afford to buy a car in the first place.”
As the cost of EVs remains very high, especially given the automotive supply issues, Erik suggests in Norway that “we still need incentives for a few more years”. Historically, the incentives for Norwegian drivers have been extremely good. In Norway, counties and municipalities cannot charge more than 50 % of the price for fossil fuel cars on ferries, public parking and toll roads. There is no tax on EVs – including exemption from 25% VAT on purchases – compared to high taxes on high emission vehicles.
These incentives have all fostered high growth, although, even Erik acknowledges that at some point taxes will have to return on electric cars and that already there are discussions about putting VAT back onto the price of cars over a certain value. However, given how much further along with their transition Norway is, I think there are credible questions about whether the UK has backed out too quickly – albeit many tax benefits, such as for company cars, remain in Britain.
2. Foster home charging
Unlike in the UK where nearly a third of households do not have off-street parking, in Norway, most people have access to a spot at their home, which makes charging significantly easier. However, whatever the make-up of the country, Erik believes fostering the ability to charge at your home should be the go-to, saying that fast charging (that is chargers quicker than 50kW) should be “the safety net”.
One interesting approach Norway has taken recently was to change the regulations for apartment buildings saying everyone has a right to charge. Erik explained this means “local apartment boards can’t say no, they actually have to fix it”. In practice for landlords, the installing extra cabling and electricity capacity is split among everyone, like the use of an elevator. However, the actual EV charger is paid for by residents wanting to charge up.
I’m not sure we have quite as clear regulations in the UK around building chargers in blocks. Many may complain that they are subsidising other residents, so definitely feels like there is space for clarifying rules.
3. Cut red tape
“The main challenge today is the local red-tape bureaucracy to build the stations,” explains Erik about the need to make it easier to build charging stations. “Operators want to build a lot more than they are able to build.” This worry about red tape at a local level echoes calls in the UK, such as from ubitricity recently. This is where the government’s new Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure programmes need to come into its own.
4. Think bigger
“We started with a small network of fast charging stations, it was right back then but I don’t believe it is right today,” believes Erik, suggesting that countries should “think bigger from the beginning.”
Erik says that in Norway “all the operators have been thinking biggish” and have been installing 2 or 3 rapid chargers at different sites. However, he worries that as the transition has progressed, they are now caught short. “We see that now we need to build 8, 10 or 20 chargers [at single sites], so to think big from day one I think is very important when you want to roll out networks.”
5. Reliability is critical
Interestingly, when I asked whether he felt Norway’s charging network worked well, Erik flatly reply with “no”. Often we hear the headlines of the country’s success at adopting battery electrics but actually very little about the charging infrastructure, which I for one have assumed has been better than other nations. It seems even Norway is facing similar woes to others globally.
Erik told me that figures this year show roughly 50% of EV drivers found that the fast charging network in Norway didn’t work ‘occasionally or more often’. That’s up from 42% last year, which Erik acknowledges is certainly “the wrong direction.”
Reliability of public infrastructure is a challenge for all nations and Norway probably has more experience than any other on this topic. Erik believes the reason many chargers are often out of action is that “we use them so much that they wear out.” Adding that the country is the first country to have been able to stress test devices. “Many chargers burn out seven hours after continuous use.”
Norway doesn’t have any regulations on reliability for charging infrastructure, so in that sense the UK could be ahead of the game with its 99% expectation. However, when I brought this up with Erik he was suspicious of how this would be monitored, suggesting counties in Norway had tried similar arrangements.
6. Customer experience is key
Perhaps unsurprising seeing as Norway was the first market to really get going with charging, Erik tells me that “access and payment for charging is a complete mess.”.
Echoing similar frustrations we have in the UK, Erik explains “there are roughly 10 fast networks, and for slower chargers, it’s even more. And each company has their own app, we don’t do the contactless payment on the chargers, so you need to be registered with each. It’s a hassle.”
Only recently has the Norwegian government been making moves to ensure pricing information is shown on their devices, and Erik wants to see more contactless payment options on chargers – which currently are not a requirement. In fact, Erik believes there are only a few chargers in Norway which have contactless, everything is done through apps.
We shall have to wait and see what regulations the British government brings forward on consumer protections – having promised to clear up the accessibility concerns in the recent infrastructure strategy. Though, certainly, a key lesson for charging companies and carmakers is that closed networks are not the way to go.
7. Be predictable
Finally, the last lesson Erik had was that countries should be “predictable on the policy side”. He pointed to an example in Sweden where their bonus system for EVs “is running out all the time.” This feels timely given the UK’s announcement today around plug-in car grants, which is just another variable those in the sector have to react to.
In Norway, this predictability has been probably one of the most powerful ways to progress the transition – the first tax incentives for EVs were established in 1990 and remain in place today. Erik understands that taking a similar approach to Norway “might not work in other countries” but that by being clever with the taxes, such as applying them more heavily on high emission cars, you can get a substantial revenue on it. Though, here in Britain, this sort of policy would certainly go down as a tax on the poor to help the rich level up their garages.
Going back to what the Minister said, “if you can make it happen here, you can make it happen anywhere”. I believe that is certainly true if the conditions are right. Though if we’re not careful as a country we could also mirror their problems with infrastructure, which is why very long-term forward planning is needed alongside strong consumer protections. As it would be a cataclysmic disaster if we got more people into cars without a backbone behind them.
Seemingly, it’s encouraging the UK government wants to focus on charging now rather than grants. Though, given the current fuel costs and precarious nature of the used car market, to me, a door needs to be left open to help those lower earners change lanes later in the transition.
My interview was with Erik Lorentzen, Head of Analysis and Advisory Services, Norwegian EV Association. You can follow them on Twitter here.
UK ends the plug-in car grant from today (Tuesday 14 June)
European fund managers criticise Toyota for resisting the EV transition
Insightful article by The Guardian’s Jasper Jolly (a keen EVer) on how designs for cars are changing with the turn to electric
The EU last week voted to ban combustion engine cars from 2035 – this brings them in-line with the UK
Given the recent political battles Prime Minister Boris has been having, I was worried but not surprised to read that his green agenda may take a back seat going forward as he looks to appease Tory MPs
Over in Kent, plans to install 7,000 chargers by 2030 have been branded ‘unrealistic’ by local councillors – so far they have installed just 54. I’m sure this is a story we will see again for different regions.
By Tom Riley