Want to know the future of electric cars?  Look at Norway, the country that is closest to giving up gasoline

Want to know the future of electric cars? Look at Norway, the country that is closest to giving up gasoline

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Approximately 177 kilometers south of Osloalong a road lined with pine and birch trees, a gleaming gas station gives a glimpse of a future where electric cars to dominate.

There are more porters than gas stations in the service area operated by Circle K, a retail chain that originated in Texas. During summer weekends, when Oslo residents escape to country houses, the queue to recharge battery sometimes it extends to the driveway.

Marit Bergsland, who works at the convenience store, had to learn how to help customers who can’t plug their cars into a charger, in addition to her normal tasks such as flipping hamburgers and charging salted licorice, a popular local delicacy. “Sometimes we need to give them a cup of coffee to calm them down,” he said.

Some lawmakers and business executives describe tackling climate change as requiring dire sacrifices. “Not so with electric cars,” said Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, which represents car owners. “It’s really something that people welcome.”

Norway began promoting electric vehicles in the 1990s to support Think, an electric vehicle company that for several years was owned by Ford Motor. Battery-powered vehicles were exempt from value-added tax (VAT) and import duties, and did not pay road tax.

The government has also subsidized the construction of fast payment centers, important in a country as close as California, with only 5.5 million people. The combination of incentives and transporters from all sides “made all the conflicting things go away,” said Jim Rowan, CEO of Volvo Cars, based nearby. Sweden.

Those policies put Norway more than a decade ahead of the United States. Government biden aims for 50% of new car sales to be electric by 2030, a milestone Norway reached in 2019.

Just meters from the six-lane highway that runs along Oslo’s waterfront, steel pipes protrude from the roof of a prefabricated cabin. The construction measures the pollution caused by passing vehicles, just a few steps from the bike path and the marina.

The levels of nitrogen oxides, a byproduct of petroleum and diesel fuel that cause air pollution, asthma and other diseases, have decreased significantly due to the increase in the number of electric vehicles. “We are on the way to solving the NOx problem,” said Tobias Wolf, Oslo’s chief air quality engineer, referring to nitrogen oxides.

But there is still a problem and that’s where the bugs start. Oslo’s air contains unhealthy levels of fine particles produced in part by tires rubbing against the pavement. Electric vehicles, which make up about a third of the city’s registered vehicles but account for the majority of traffic, could exacerbate this problem.

“They are actually heavier than internal combustion engine cars, and that means they cause more friction,” said Wolf, who, like many Oslo residents, prefers to get around by bicycle.

Another ongoing problem: Apartment residents say finding a place to park their cars is still a challenge. A few days ago, MPs and local residents gathered in the basement of a restaurant in Oslo to discuss the issue.

Sirin Hellvin Stav, Oslo’s deputy mayor for environment and transport, told the event that the city wants to install more public chargers, but also reduce the number of cars by a third to make the streets safer and more walkable. . bicycle.

“The goal is to reduce emissions, which is why electric cars are so important, but it’s also to make the city better to live in,” Sirin of the Green Party said in a later interview.

The electric vehicles are part of Oslo’s wider plan to reduce its carbon emissions to almost zero by 2030. All buses in the city will be electric by the end of the year.

Oslo also focuses on construction, the source of more than a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions. Construction companies competing in tenders for public projects are more likely to win if they use equipment that uses electricity or biofuels.

In a park in a working-class Oslo neighborhood last month, a bulldozer dug up dirt to create a decorative pond. A thick cable connected the excavator to a power source, driving its electric motor. Later, an electric dump truck carried away the removed earth.

Normally, the staff would have to stop work during the children’s nap at the nearby kindergarten. However, the electrical equipment was quiet enough that work could continue. (Children in Norway sleep outside when the weather permits.)

Espen Hauge, who oversees the city’s construction projects, said he was surprised by how quickly builders replaced diesel-powered machines with inaccessible electrical equipment. “Some projects that we thought were impossible or very difficult to achieve zero emissions, still received zero recommendations,” he said.

Sirin acknowledged what he called the hypocrisy of Norway’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing large amounts of oil and gas. Fossil fuel exports generated $180 billion in revenue last year. “We are exporting this pollution,” Sirin said, noting that his party has called for an end to oil and gas production by 2035.

But the Norwegian government has not backed down in oil and gas production. “We have many productive, or developing, fields that provide energy security for Europe,” Amund Vik, foreign secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, said in a statement.

Elsewhere, the country’s electricity grid is holding up well, even as demand for electricity increases. It helps that Norway has a lot of hydroelectric power. However, electric cars have increased demand for electricity somewhat, according to calculations by the Electric Vehicle Association, and many owners charge their cars at night, when demand is lower and energy is cheaper.

Elvia, which supplies electricity to Oslo and the surrounding area, needed to install substations and transformers in some areas, said Anne Nysæther, the company’s director. However, he added, “We have not had cases of the Internet not handling.”

Nor has there been an increase in unemployment among car mechanics. Electric cars don’t need oil changes and require less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars, but they still break down. And there are many gasoline powered vehicles that will need maintenance over the years.

Sindre Dranberg, who has worked at the Volkswagen dealership in Oslo since the 1980s, was trained to maintain electric car batteries. Was it difficult to make the change? “No,” he said, as he replaced the faulty cells in the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Electric vehicles are creating jobs in other sectors. In Fredrikstad, about 88 km south of Oslo, an old steel mill has been converted into a battery recycling facility. Workers, including some who worked at the steel plant, disassemble the battery packs. The machine then crushes the packaging to separate the plastic, aluminum and copper from the black mass which contains important ingredients such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite.

The plant, Hydrovolt, is the first of several that the company intends to build in Europe and America. Currently, there is not much to recycle. However, sooner or later, recycled batteries can significantly reduce the need for minerals.

“If we can take an already-used material that’s in a product and make a new one, then we’re creating a shortcut,” said Peter Qvarfordt, CEO of Hydrovolt, a joint venture between aluminum producer Norsk Hydro and Northvolt, a battery maker.

If anyone has to worry about their job, it’s the car dealership. The complete disappearance of petrol and diesel vehicles from shop windows has changed the face of the industry.

Moller Mobility Group has long been the largest car dealer in Norway, where sales last year reached $3.7 billion with sales in Sweden and the Baltics. The group store is full of electric Volkswagens such as the ID.4 and ID.Buzz. There are only a few cars with internal combustion engines.

However, Tesla’s sales are outpacing Volkswagen in Norway, grabbing 30% of the market, compared to 19% for Volkswagen and other German automaker brands such as Skoda and Audi, according to Road Information.

Sales of electric vehicles by Chinese companies such as BYD and Xpeng are also growing. If this trend is replicated elsewhere in Europe and the United States, some of the leading automakers may no longer exist.

Petter Hellman, CEO of Moller Mobility, predicts that traditional brands will make a comeback because consumers trust them and they have extensive service networks. “But Tesla has clearly shaken up the industry,” he said.

Circle K, which bought gas stations owned by Norway’s state-owned oil company, is using its experience in the country to learn how to serve electric car owners in the United States and Europe. The chain, which is currently owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard, a company based near Montreal, has more than 9,000 stores across North America.

Guro Stordal, chief executive at Circle K, has the difficult task of building a charging infrastructure that works with many types of vehicles, each with its own software.

EV owners tend to spend more time at Circle K because charging the battery takes longer than filling the gas tank. That’s good for selling food. But petrol remains an important source of income.

“We see this as an opportunity,” Hakon Stiksrud, head of global electric mobility for Circle K, said of electric vehicles. “But if we can’t take those opportunities, it quickly becomes a threat.” / Translation by Romina Cacia