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Norway vs. British Columbia: The Great Electric Vehicle Race

Guy Dauncey

Update; March 2015: Norway now has 45,500 EVs. 15% of all new vehicles are electric, and there are 6,000 EV charging stations.

I wish I could have traveled to Norway to research this story—but the Solar Impulse 2, which is on a round-the-world flight with solar-covered wings wider than a Boeing 747—only has room for the pilot.

Norway and British Columbia are very similar. Both have rugged ocean coasts, mountainous terrains and ample hydro electricity, allowing 95% zero-carbon electricity in BC and 100% in Norway. They also have similar populations, with 4.4 million people in BC and 5 million in Norway.

But when it comes to electric cars, is there ever a difference.

We have 932 EVs: They have 29,000

At the latest count BC had 932 EVs on the road, while Norway has over 29,000, plus 1500 plug-in hybrid EVs. This April, electric vehicles were 12% of all new car sales in Norway, and 11.5% of used imports. So what gives? Why is Norway rushing ahead so fast?

Sit, and drool. If you buy an electric vehicle in Norway, first you pay no tax, which saves you $4,000.

Next, your annual driving fee (we have no equivalent) is just $73, compared to $524 for a regular car.

Next perk? No parking charges, anywhere in Norway. That saves $8 a week, or $436 a year.

Next? No ferry charges, and no road tolls around Oslo, which cost the average Norwegian driver $25 a week, or $1,310 a year. And on top of this, electric vehicles are allowed to drive in the bus lanes, just to prove that they are the superior species.

And finally, free municipal EV recharging. And when you do need to pay, the electricity needed to run an EV costs $10 a week, compared to $55 for a regular car.

An EV Driver in Norway saves $369 a month

When you add these things up, as the Norwegian non-profit Grønn Bil (Green Car) has done, if you drive 15,000 kilometres a year your EV will save you $369 a month (including financing) compared to a regular car, $616 versus $985 a month. (www.gronnbil.no/english)

Is it any wonder that Norwegians are rushing to buy electric vehicles? They have 21 models to choose from, ranging from the Tesla Model S ($84,000) to the 2-seater Renault Twizy ($14,850), and over 600 EV dealerships. And there are ten times more Level Two recharging stations in Norway: 5,195, compared to 593 in BC. Range anxiety is clearly not an issue.



BC: Now, There is Nothing

Here in British Columbia, we had a great incentive program that gave $5,000 towards the cost of a new EV, and grants towards the cost of a recharging station. But the funds ran out in March 2014, and now there is nothing.

Norway’s government says that the generous incentives will be withdrawn, or reconsidered, when 50,000 zero emission cars have been registered, which could be within 18 months at the current rate.

They have decided that it’s good policy to kickstart the EV revolution, to get enough people into electric cars, so that they can realize how great they are.

I have crunched the numbers, and averaged over five years, each EV driver in Norway saves $2427 a year in energy and maintenance, to which the government adds $2,640 a year in perks. When they reach 50,000 EVs, it will cost the government $132 million, or 0.045% of their annual revenue of $293 billion. (BC’s budget is $45 billion, six times smaller than Norway’s.)



A Little Thing Called Climate Change

The move is clearly part of Norway’s plan to tackle climate change, aiming at a 9% reduction in emissions below 1990 by 2020 (BC’s goal is 33% below 2007 by 2020). Norway has also embraced a binding commitment to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2030, reducing emissions somewhere else on the planet by the equivalent of 100% of their own emissions.

In addition to the reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution—with the health benefits of reduced asthma and cardiovascular problems—and reduced noise, every EV driver who spends $2427 a year less on their car will presumably spend that money elsewhere in the economy, to Norway’s benefit.

Make no mistake, thanks to their oil, and their skill in managing it, Norway is a very wealthy country. Unlike Alberta, they have retained public ownership of the oil, and they tax production profits at 78%. As a result, they have accumulated a Government Pension Fund (Sovereign Wealth Fund) worth an astonishing $878 billion, compared to Alberta’s $16 billion.

Norway’s gas also costs twice as much as BC’s, giving their electric vehicle advantage more leverage: $2.86 a litre compared to $1.30. Their electricity costs more too, however: 17 cents compared to 11 cents a kilowatt hour.

I am not suggesting that BC should spend as liberally as Norway. But right now we are doing nothing. BC’s Clean Energy Vehicle program started in 2011 with funding of $14.3 million, which has now been spent, and there’s nothing to replace it.  Over three years, that was $4.7 million a year, 28 times less than Norway’s will be at its peak.

In 2011, transportation produced 37% of BC’s greenhouse gases (23 million tonnes), of which cars and light trucks produced 8.5 million tonnes. The carbon tax is having a positive effect, but we need to make progress on every front, and cars and light trucks are one of the easier sectors to tackle, at least compared to aviation, marine and heavy-duty trucks. 

A New EV Program for BC

Our provincial budget is six times smaller than Norway’s, but we should at least try to match them, spending the same share of the budget, or $20 million a year. Instead of giving a straight $5,000 to EV buyers, however, it might be smart to give $1,000 to the dealers, to give them an incentive to make an effort.

As well as incentives of $4,000 to the buyer and $1,000 to the dealer, we could take a leaf out of Norway’s book and allow EVs to use bus lanes; to pay no tolls on the Port Mann bridge; to travel for free on BC Ferries; and we could persuade municipalities to allow 24-hour free parking. $20 million a year would encourage willing purchasers to grow BC’s EV fleet by 4,000 vehicles a year, and begin to normalize the change.

But now get this: BC is not an oil-producer, although we do have to refineries (Burnaby and Prince George), so every time a motorist gases up, almost all the money spent leaves the provincial economy.

No spin-offs, no multiplier effect—it’s like a drain, and the money goes straight down it. For the average driver, that’s $300 a month leaving BC’s economy. Stats Canada shows that in 2012, BC motorists used 4.3 billion litres of gasoline. At $1.30 a litre, that’s $5 billion dollars leaving BC’s economy every year.

A Multi-Billion Dollar Annual Stimulus Program

When a driver buys an EV, however, instead of spending $300 a month on oil, he or she spends $50 a month on hydro, all of which stays in the province, and some of the $250 monthly savings probably stays too. As the EV revolution takes off, it has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar annual stimulus program for the BC economy: that’s why it’s so important to make the investment in incentives.

Ontario is offering up to $8,500 per electric car; Quebec $8,000. The US is offering up to $7,500 in tax credits, in addition to which California offers a further $2,500; Washington State a 6.5% sales tax exemption; and various other states smaller incentives. Quebec has also just announced a new $516 million incentive program to roll out 5,000 charging stations by 2017.

And meanwhile, BC is offering nothing.

We must continue to take action on climate change, and supporting the electric vehicle revolution is one of the easiest ways to do so. To do nothing is climate dereliction, as if global warming and BC’s legislated climate action goals are to be laughed at and dismissed.

The Greatest Paradox—Christy Clark Agrees

 And here's the greatest paradox: BC's Premier agrees.

In October 2013 Premier Christy Clark signed onto the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, along with the governors of Washington, Oregon and California.

After "acknowledging the clear and convincing scientific evidence of climate change," they jointly agreed (among other things) to "take actions to expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, aiming for 10% of new vehicle purchases in public and private fleets by 2016."

10% of all new vehicles, the same as Norway is currently achieving, proving that Norway is our perfect role model. 

They also agreed to "support public and private fleet managers to shift their procurement investments to catalyze toward electric car purchases, and to continue to invest in necessary infrastructure to enable low-carbon electric transportation."

So now we just need the action. 


Data file attached. Thanks to John Stonier from VEVA for additional thoughts.