British Columbia

B.C. could follow Norway's lead on electric car revolution

Why does Norway — a country similar to B.C. in population, geography, and hydroelectric power — have more than 30 times the number of electric cars? And what would it take to close the gap?

Incentives and infrastructure are the key to encouraging electric car adoption, says report

(Getty Images)

Why does Norway — a country similar to B.C. in population, geography, and hydroelectric power — have more than 30 times the number of electric? And what would it take to close the gap?

In the space of six years, Norway has gone from zero to more than 74,000 electric vehicles on its streets, according to a new report by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. That's the highest per-capita penetration in the world, and it's years ahead of Norway's own schedule. 

Since January this year more than 20 per cent of all new cars sold in oil-rich Norway are electric.

In comparison, the report states that there were approximately 2,413 electrical vehicles on B.C. roads as of Sep. 2015, with sales accounting for less than one per cent of total personal car purchases, 

Gas money funds sustainability

"What Norway is doing is something really smart," said Tom Pedersen, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

"Oil is a vehicle for them to get to the state where they can become a much more sustainable nation," he said.

"From day one, they've taxed it heavily, they've put high royalties on it and they've banked the money," said Pedersen, adding that the country is now sitting on a heritage fund of roughly $1 trillion dollars. 

Why is B.C. so far behind?

"The difference is that the government there said, 'We have to do something,'" said Pedersen.

The report found that while the tax breaks and rebates offered under B.C.'s Clean Energy Vehicle program are attractive, Norway's are better.

"They said, zero taxes on electric vehicles. We'll put charging stations across the country," Pedersen said.

With their exemption from Norway's Value Added Tax, electric vehicles can be purchased at roughly the same cost of an internal combustion engine car, he added.

More than 5,600 free re-charging stations have been built throughout the country to relieve what Pedersen calls "range anxiety," particularly in Norway's colder climate. 

In addition, the country has offered free parking, free ferries, free toll roads and access to bus lanes. 

"Put all of that together and the consumer said, 'Whoa, why wouldn't I buy an electric car?" said Pedersen.

Not a political decision

This program of incentives and tax breaks began under a social democratic government, but was expanded under the conservative government elected in 2013, Pedersen said.

"It's not a political position. It's something they saw as important for the nation to do," said Pederson, adding that B.C. could do the same.

Pedersen admits the costs are high, totaling roughly $550 million in foregone tax revenue and infrastructure costs for the Scandinavian country so far.

"To kickstart a revolution ... one must invest."

Norway plans to begin phasing out these tax exemptions beginning in 2018, "because they don't need them anymore," said Pedersen.

"The public is so enamoured now, increasingly enamoured, with electrical vehicle transportation."

To hear the full interview with Tom Pedersen, listen to the audio: What would it take to get electric cars to take off in B.C. like they have in Norway?