For many, electric cars are a scary thing. Not only will hordes of them crash the electrical grid and make parking garages fall down, they will also use up lots of natural resources, their batteries are toxic, and there’s no place to charge them. Spawn of the devil, that’s what electric cars are!
People today have a choice. They can either believe the scary headlines planted by fossil fuel interests, or they can look to see what is actually happening in Norway, where the EV revolution has already taken place. About 80% of new cars sold in that country last year were battery-powered. So far this year, that number is closer to 90%. Although a prohibition in the sale of passenger cars with internal combustion engines begins in 2025, some manufacturers like Volkswagen have decided to stop selling them even before the ban kicks in.
Electric Cars In Norway
How did Norway get to this point? The New York Times dug into that topic recently and found that electric vehicles bring many benefits without the dire consequences predicted by critics. Reporter Jack Ewing found the air in Oslo is measurably cleaner and the city is quieter without the clatter of so many gasoline and diesel cars. The city’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 30% since 2009, yet there has not been mass unemployment for those who work at gas stations and the electrical grid has not collapsed.
Many lawmakers and corporate executives portray the fight against climate change as requiring grim sacrifice. “With E.V.s, it’s not like that,” Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian EV Association, told Ewing. “It’s actually something that people embrace.” Which proves once again the wisdom of Mark Twain, who famously said, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you near as much as what you do know that ain’t true.”
Electric Cars Create Challenges
None of this is meant to imply that the transition to electric cars has been without its challenges. Norway decided to promote electric cars by exempting them from national taxes that normally apply to the purchase of a new car, which are typically around 12%. That has obviously had an impact on the nation’s treasury. In addition, EV drivers were exempt from many bridge and ferry tolls — something Norway has plenty of.
There have been the usual problems with unreliable chargers and long waits during periods of high demand. Auto dealers and retailers have seen their business models disrupted. Tesla is now the bestselling brand, while mainstream companies like Renault and Fiat have suffered a decline in sales.
Marit Bergsland works at a Circle K in Oslo that now has more EV chargers than gas pumps. Circle K has found that having chargers actually has helped its business, because people stay longer to charge an EV than to pump gas, so they spend more time inside the store buying things. She tells Ewing she has had to learn how to help frustrated customers connect to chargers in addition to her regular duties. “Sometimes we have to give them a coffee to calm down,” she said.
Circle K, headquartered in Montreal, now has about 9000 chargers at its locations in North America. Guro Stordal is the Circle K executive who has to deal with issues that arise when customers driving dozens of different brands of electric cars need to interface with the charging software.
Plug-and-play, like Tesla uses for its Supercharger network, takes care of all those messy details seamlessly in the background. Plug in, the charger identifies the car, verifies that arrangements for payment are in effect, and charging starts — usually within seconds. Sadly, plug-and-play is coming slowly to the rest of the industry, which often leads to frustration for drivers.
“We do see it as an opportunity,” Hakon Stiksrud, Circle K’s head of global e-mobility, said about providing chargers for electric cars at its stores. “But if we are not capable of grasping those opportunities, it quickly becomes a threat.”
Can The Grid Cope?
So many people lose their minds about how electric cars will cause the utility grid to collapse, but we seldom hear such concerns from the utility industry. Electric cars have increased the demand for electricity, according to calculations by Elbil, the Norway EV Association. Most owners are charging their cars at night, when demand is lower and the cost of electricity is lower.
Elvia, which supplies electricity to Oslo and the surrounding area, has needed to install new substations and transformers in some places, its managing director, Anne Nysæther, told the New York Times. That being said, “we haven’t seen any issue of the grid collapsing.”
New Employment Opportunities
The other claim we hear from anti-EV folks is that electric cars will lead to massive job losses in the industry. Ewing spoke with Sindre Dranberg, who has worked as a mechanic at a Volkswagen dealership in Oslo for more than 30 years. Recently he underwent training to service the batteries in electric cars. Was it difficult to make the switch, Ewing asked? “No,” Dranberg said.
The arrival of electric cars is creating new job opportunities, even as some jobs are being eliminated. Such things are part of every transition from old tech to new tech. Wheelwrights, wagon makers, and blacksmiths all saw their occupations affected when horses gave way to automobiles.
In Fredrikstad, 55 miles south of Oslo, a former steel plant has become a battery recycling center. That’s where workers, some of whom were employed at the steel mill before it closed down, are now dismantling EV battery packs. The factory, owned by Hydrovolt, is the first of several the company plans to build in Europe and the United States. Battery recycling jobs didn’t exist several years ago. Now they do.
We do not mean to suggest that there will not be upheavals, dislocations, and challenges ahead as the proportion of electric cars on the road increases. One of the concerns mentioned is fine particulates given off by tires. The number of particulates increases with the weight of vehicles, and electric cars do tend to be 800 to 1000 pounds heavier than their gasoline-powered cousins because of the weight of their batteries.
“We are on the verge of solving the NOx problem,” said Tobias Wolf, Oslo’s chief engineer for air quality. But he notes the air over Oslo still has unhealthy levels of microscopic particles generated partly by the abrasion of tires and asphalt. “They are really a lot heavier than internal combustion engine cars, and that means that they are causing more abrasion,” said Mr. Wolf, who, like many Oslo residents, prefers to get around by bicycle.
Sirin Hellvin Stav, Oslo’s vice mayor for environment and transport, said the city wants to install more public chargers, but also wants to reduce the number of cars on city streets by a third to make streets safer and free up space for walking and cycling. “The goal is to cut emissions, which is why E.V.s are so important, but also to make the city better to live in,” Ms. Stav, a member of the Green Party, said in an interview.
The bottom line is that replacing a flotilla of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars with an equally large flotilla of battery-electric cars is not likely to solve the problem of global heating, which means the EV revolution is not the end of the story. If you think the anti-EV forces are hyperventilating now, imagine what will happen when they are told they have to ride a bicycle and leave the Tesla at home!
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