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April 8th, 2016

The rise of electric vehicles in Norway

The Norwegian government is intent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from road traffic. In its quest for cleaner air, especially in urban areas, it has turned its attention to electric vehicles (EVs). Through a combination of advanced research, financial incentives and public awareness campaigns, the breakthrough has been made: there are around 70,000 EVs on the road in Norway and 20 percent of new vehicles are fully electric.

The initiative

Norway has focused its attention on moving from fossil-fueled to EVs. “Local emissions can be reduced and the local air quality can be improved. EVs also help reduce noise in the city.”[3] Research on EVs began in the 1970s, but usage has only taken off this century.

The government's broad environmental objective for 2020 is that the average emissions from new private vehicles will not exceed an average of 85 g of CO2/km. This sets the context for its EV policy, on the assumption that more use of EVs is an obvious means of reducing air pollution.

There are also a number of incentives for electric car users, including lower taxes and exemptions from road tolls. “For example, Oslo City Council has made charging points a high priority. “The City Council decided in 2007 to establish 400 charging points from 2008-2011. In early 2008, the technology required to incorporate a payment solution into the charging points was not fully development. So rather than spend time creating a payment solution, the city decided to make charging free, explained Marianne Mølmen, the former Head of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure at Oslo's Agency for Urban Environment. In late 2011, the programme was deemed a success, and expanded to establish 100 new charging points in 2012, and then to reach 900 in total by the end of 2014. The City Council also repurposed funds from the existing Climate And Energy Fund and created incentives for businesses and apartment building owners to install charging points" [4]

The challenge

Air pollution from road traffic is a problem in almost all European cities and Oslo is no exception. “Transport accounts for 50 % of greenhouse gas emissions in Oslo. It is also the main source of local air pollution in the city.” [1] The Norwegian government has developed ambitious targets: “the Norwegian government and the EU have drawn up regulations aimed at reducing fossil CO2 emissions from road traffic.” [2] The question is: what is the most effective solution to this environmental problem?

The public impact

As of October 2015, the country hit a record of 66,000 EVs on the road, far exceeding official estimates of 50,000 such cars being driven by late 2017. “No other country can yet match Norway's proportion of all-electric cars. Though still only 2 percent, the figure is double that of the runner-up, the Netherlands, and is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. More than one-fifth of new car sales in Norway are of EVs.”[5]  “It's one of the few success stories in Norwegian environmental policy,” said Petter Haugneland, Communications Manager for the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, a major booster of efforts to increase EV ownership, pointing to the success of EV usage. “It's an inspiration for other countries.”

Norwegian resident Bjørn Engebretsen, who was an early convert to electric vehicles, believes the EV industry is poised for strong growth. “Just look how much has happened in the past five years,” he said, pointing to the introduction of the new EV models and investments by the government in supporting infrastructure like charging points. “It's so beautiful to drive electric cars.” Plus, he said, people were increasingly realising how enjoyable owning an EV can be.

Stakeholder engagement

On behalf of the Ministry of Transport, the energy companies organised a resource group. In 2009, it presented a plan of action for the electrification of road transport, which assumed that it would be possible to reach a 10 percent share for EVs and plug-in hybrids in the passenger car fleet in 2020.  Marianne Mølmen said that even with the target of 10 %, “we really didn't know what as going to happen in the future.” She explained that the technology was still nascent. “At that time [2009[ we only had small EVs that were produced in Norway. They were like plastic cars!”

Nevertheless, support came from more than just the government. “The Norwegian EV Association … supported their members' efforts to get the most out of the vehicles, by compiling and making available information on charging facilities. They recruited new EV drivers through test drives, and other dissemination activities, and they facilitated knowledge transfer on an internet user forum.”[6]

“These local incentives are administered and funded by the municipalities themselves.”[7] City and regional governments have complied with government incentive programmes, exempting electric cars from fees and tolls, even though this cuts their revenue.

Political commitment

The objectives have cross-party political agreement and government funding drives the EV initiative. “This programme of incentives and tax breaks began under a social democratic government, but was expanded under the conservative government elected in 2013.”[8]

There was cross-party political consensus to uphold the Zero Emission Vehicles financial incentives until 2018, or until there were 50,000 such vehicles on the road. The country's targets are now even more ambitious. “The financial subsidies were initially due to be phased out either in 2018 or once the country reaches a specific penetration rate for EVs—50,000 vehicles. However, as of March 2015, the country was home to 52,865 plug-in electric vehicles … hitting the target three years ahead of schedule (indeed, by September [2015] the figure had grown to 74,282. As a result of the premature success, in May [2015], the government overhauled its policies. Tax exemptions have been prolonged until 2017, with a gradual phase-out scheduled from 2018.”  Haugneland of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association said the tax incentives were the most important incentive factor driving new EV car ownership.

Public confidence

The speedy uptake of EVs in Norway shows that there is faith in the objective being pursued. “Tom Nørbech, senior adviser at [the Norwegian government's clean energy agency,] Transnova, [now absorbed in ENOVA] explains that ‘these incentives have been in place for many years and have proven to be very popular, with few issues or concerns'.”[9]

However, there are sceptics, who wonder whether the Norwegian EV programme is cost-effective or efficient way to reduce air pollutants.  Mølmen said that newer, more reliable, and more expensive electric vehicles on the roads have heightened people's perceptions - both good and bad - about the incentives. For example, people can drive their electric vehicles in bus lanes. Mølmen said that early on “if you were stuck in traffic you were used to seeing these small uncomfortable cars… passing you by in the bus lane, but that was sort of OK because you wouldn't want to drive them anyway. But once you start seeing more proper cars passing you by and then it's this super expensive car passing you by - some people may have started getting offended by that.”

Some have also suggested the government could temper opposition by doing more to communicate the benefits of EV ownership. “There are people who are skeptical because they don't know what it is,” said EV owner and enthusiast Engebretsen. “I think the politicians need to explain what EV car ownership is about.”

Clarity of objectives

Norway set clear, measurable goals for its EV programme, such as specifying the number of charging stations to be built by 2011 and the target number of EVs on the road by 2017.

These objectives have been updated in the course of the initiative, because the original targets were met ahead of schedule (e.g., the target number of EVs has been updated from half a million by the end of 2017 to a more ambitious target of 2 million by 2020).

There are also clear overarching objectives regarding CO2 emission reduction, to which the EV programme makes a significant contribution.

Strength of evidence

Norway draws evidence based on prior policies and its own drawn out experience over the years; various studies and business models have been conducted and tested. Its development has been a work of various ministries and stakeholders which makes the evidence strong in this case.

  • Development of EV prototypes and propulsion system was researched during 1970-1990 and testing took place until 1999.
  • In 2008, the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communication established a resource group led by Energi Norge in order to draw up an action plan for electrification of road transport.
  • The Klimakur [climate cure] project, established by the government assessed the potential for national emission reduction in all the sectors. The work within the transport sector was led by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. The work with the Klimakur project was part of the basis for drawing up the government white paper on climate policy published in 2012.


The feasibility regarding public take-up of EVs has been overcome, with high levels of EV ownership.

It is generally accepted by Norwegian analysts that the length of time required to recharge EVs has become the biggest barrier to wider uptake now that range anxiety has been largely eliminated.

There are also some doubts about the technical feasibility of charging so many EVs. A 2013 analysis of large-scale integration of EVs deploying models involving data from Nord-Trondelag Elektrisitetsverk, a regional power company and operator of the nation's power grid, demonstrated that at a nationwide penetration rate of 7 percent (200,000 vehicles), vehicle charging demands will breach voltage variation restrictions. Even with smart-charging strategies, the charging load presents the Norwegian system with too much stress.

“Transnova is engaged in battery-swapping test projects, since in the near future this could also be significant barriers to this as an option. The main obstacle is cost. The battery-swapping service-provider must maintain a large inventory of batteries, and that obligation represents a major capital investment."[10]


The EV initiative requires interaction between ‘private enterprises, public authorities and non government organisations.[11] ’The state owned enterprise, ENOVA, and the Norwegian EV Association created NOBIL, the online database of EV charging stations. The EV Association, an NGO, is responsible for the ongoing management of NOBIL and works with national and local authorities to promote the use of electric cars. Local incentives such as parking fees exemptions are managed by municipal councils.


The Norwegian EV Association “runs an annual survey among Norwegian electric car users asking about their experiences and opinions on the market and policy concerning EVs [and] develops and maintains the Norwegian charging station database (NOBIL)”.[12] Information is collected from EV-users, charging stations owners and operators and other contributors. Collection and verification of data is prioritised to secure accurate and reliable information for EV-users in need of electricity.  NOBIL is financed and owned by ENOVA. NOBIL's role is to gather information and communicate it effectively to third parties.


There is very strong alignment between most actors. The political parties have achieved a consensus about the benefits of EVs. “The government has a long-term perspective with political support for all parties,” said Haugneland of the Norwegian EV Association. “Of course, there have been some differences across parties around what the incentives should be, but the parties all support the big picture.”

Citizens have largely accepted this, too, and there is cooperation between bodies such as the Norwegian EV Association and ENOVA, the government agency responsible for promoting clean energy production and consumption.

However, this alignment is not universal:

  • Some Norwegian citizens are concerned with “the fact that the country's vehicle-charging infrastructure had not kept pace with the number of new electric cars on the road”.[13]
  • In order for EVs to be a plausible option, Norwegians must be able to charge them at home. However, “fewer than five percent of building owners or strata councils in Norway are even considering installing charging infrastructure”.[14]
  • Manufacturers have kept up with demand for electric cars, but are not producing as many electric vans. “Norway has not had anywhere near the same success with electric vans as it has had with cars, with sales in the low hundreds. However, this may have to do with the limited market availability of such vehicles.”[15]

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