Lessons for the U.S. from Norway’s success with electric vehicles

By Brian Lutenegger

Norway is the world’s leader in electric vehicle adoption, and the country has set a goal to be 100 percent electric by 2025. But their experience with the transition to electric vehicles holds some lessons for other countries, including the U.S.

Norway has the highest growth rate for electric vehicles of any country in the world, averaging 110 percent per year between 2009 and 2015. It also has the highest penetration of electric vehicles—10 percent of vehicles on the road and 52 percent of new vehicle sales. The country provides tax breaks and subsidies to encourage sales of EVs, and high gasoline and diesel taxes also discourage use of those fuels, despite Norway being an oil-exporting nation.

But the question is what the effect of EV adoption will have on both the electrical grid and the future of the oil industry. Although it is too early to say legacy fuel consumption will fall, the Norwegian government released its final 2017 figures for Sales of Petroleum Products in April, and for the first time since at least 2014, Norway’s consumption of gasoline and diesel declined across the board.

But will the electric grid be able to handle the new charging demands of the EVs? One energy executive thinks it will, if people are smart about charging:

The power grid will probably cope, because even though the number of electric cars increase, electricity consumption is increasing at a slower rate. Even when all cars run on electricity, it will only increase electricity consumption in Norway by about 6 percent, and if charging is done intelligently, the load at peak will only rise a few percent. It’s actually worst on Thursdays, so please don’t charge your EVs on Thursday nights.

Asking people to charge intelligently and not on Thursday nights seems like a bit of a risky proposition. A blogger who works with the Norwegian electrical industry also noted that:

Today we balance on a knife’s edge in several locations. When people install 22 kW chargers to charge their Tesla in outlying areas, it can be a heavy burden on our local network. In case of large voltage variations, it can even result in light flashing in people’s homes.

Other observers say that there are solutions short of building more electrical capacity, but countries will have to start thinking about them well before EVs become common.

As other countries push for more EVs, Norway may be the test case for both the future of oil for transport and potential problems with the electrical grid.

Brian Lutenegger is a Program Associate at Smart Growth America.