How did Oslo become the electric vehicle capital of the world?

Wednesday, 7 March 2018 11:41 GMT

Electric cars are charged at a parking lot in Oslo, Norway, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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After ten years of work shifting the market, 50 percent of all new cars sold in Oslo last year were electric

Getting people to choose more environmentally friendly transport is not science fiction, but it does take some strategic planning. In Oslo, for example, we have more electric vehicles per capita than any other city in the world. In fact, we are often called the “EV Capital of the World”. But we’re not attached to this title and heartily challenge any city out there to some healthy competition. 

After ten years of work shifting the market, 50 percent of all new cars sold in our city last year were electric, 30 percent of them battery electric vehicles and 20 percent plug-in hybrid vehicles. 

The secrets to our success are three-fold. First, we made EVs cheap to buy. We gave our residents every possible incentive to buy an electric vehicle, removing the purchase tax, which is at least 10,000 Euros, and the value added tax (VAT), which is another 2,500 Euros. Second, we made EVs cheap to use by offering free parking, free entrance to toll roads, free ferries, free tunnels, and free charging. Third, we made EVs easy to use with easy parking and easy-to-access charging infrastructure. 

All of this was a team effort, with the national government making EVs cheaper to buy by exempting them from VAT, and our city making sure that EVs were cheap and easy to use. This has resulted in an exponential growth of the EV market and the foundation for the world’s first mass market for EVs. 

This produced a significant transformation in the transport sector and significantly reduced emissions of CO2 and local pollutants. By 2020, we are aiming to reduce CO2 emissions by 36 percent from 1990 levels. By 2030, we aim to be a zero-emission city. 

Why such an aggressive agenda? Because more than 200,000 Oslo residents live in areas with levels of air pollution that may damage health. This is not only a health issue but an economic one as it may affect our economic productivity. And since transport is responsible for more than two-thirds of Oslo’s total greenhouse gas emissions, an easy way to improve the health of our residents and our economy is to make vehicles cleaner and less polluting. 

This is exactly what our residents want, too. In fact, there’s been so much demand that it’s been hard to keep up. It’s been challenging to keep pace with the exponential growth of the EV market, especially when it comes to charging infrastructure. In the early days of Oslo’s electric revolution, there was one charger for every four EVs; now there’s one charger for every ten EVs. 

To remedy this, we are building 400 new semi-fast chargers, 200 regular chargers, and six fast chargers. In addition, we will subsidise up to 8,000 charging points in multifamily buildings. There’s that much demand among the public. 

These policies aren’t just good for the public, they’re good for the private sector as well. Charging is a new business opportunity and, as a result, Oslo is collaborating with private developers to install charging infrastructure in new construction projects, new green mobility houses and garages, and even curbside with easy-to-use, fast-charging sites. 

This is the new Oslo. If there’s a new building, you can bet it’s going to be EV-friendly. 

A new endeavour is to quickly ramp up our electric bus fleet, which we recently introduced, if we are to reach our interim goal of 60 percent electric by 2025. We’ll get there, but we won’t stop there. Electric freight vehicles and electric taxis are next.

This is what the electric revolution looks like and it’s coming to a city near you. There’s a reason why we were named the European Green Capital of 2019 and we are more than happy to share our experiences on how we became the EV Capital. 

These ideas are very importable for any city or country that wants to improve its air quality and economic output and cut its emissions. We’ve been transparent with the ingredients to our success, now it’s time for a city to out-EV us. Let the competition begin.

Lan Marie Nguyen Berg is Oslo's vice mayor for environment and transport. Oslo is a member of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.