Electric vehicles are shifting paradigms – interview with Christina Bu of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association

Christina Bu became Secretary General of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association in June, 2014. She is working to make the transportation industry in Norway more environmentally friendly. She believes that the rapid adoption of electric vehicles heralds greater changes ahead. In this interview, she shares these reflections and explains how the Electric Vehicle Association aids its members and plays a part in shifting paradigms.

For our international readers, can you explain why the Norwegian electric vehicle (EV) market has been such a success story?

EVs have been exempt from the high emissions taxes owners of fossil fuel vehicles need to pay.  So this means that full electric vehicles are essentially competitive with traditional vehicles when it comes to purchase costs. There are also user incentives, which make electric vehicles even more interesting. Specifically that electric car users do not have to pay for toll-roads or public parking, can use the bus lane to avoid rush-hour traffic, and have free access to public ferries.

How many members do you have, and how do you assist your members?

We have grown very quickly, now we have close to 40,000 members. We assist our members owning an electric vehicle, like if they need help understanding how to use a fast-charging station. We also work for an electric transport future. Our organisation is definitely based in environmental principles, and this is something that is important for us: Cutting emissions from transport.

We have people answering emails and phone calls from our members who need help.  We receive about 800 calls and 3,000 emails per month with questions from members. Many of our members want to support us for the work that we do politically, but we also offer several membership deals.

One of the most important benefits we offer our members is the RFID tag for the fast charging stations run by different operators. We also give our members good deals on hotels, called Hotel Express, legal aid, road assistance, discounts on electric bikes, insurance etc.

How have you been working with politicians and other stakeholders to achieve progress towards an electric vehicle future?

In Norway politics is different from other places. Here, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a very important voice. But we still have to do good work, know what we are talking about, and suggest realistic action. One of the most important things that we work with is changing infrastructure. We need to make a point that members need fast charging stations.

Right now we are working towards influencing the government budget. To do this we are participating in hearings and meeting politicians in parliament. But just as important is talking to other stakeholders, media, the bureaucracy, other organisations etc.

We are built as a democratic organisation; we have local boards all over Norway, so far we cover 16 out of 19 counties. Our members are engaged and they do a good job promoting the use of EVs.  We are now 14 employees, which is quite an increase compared to two years ago when were only six. The amount of members has tripled during the same period. It has been a bit like running behind a moving train trying to ensure that we have the capacity to help our members in a professional and useful way. In Norway we have suddenly become one of the biggest membership organisations.

How do you expect the electric vehicle market to change in the future, both in Norway and internationally?

Internationally we are going to see that adoption rates will reach the level of purchases in Norway in a few years. People do not realise that we are facing a paradigm shift, where electric vehicles will become so technologically advanced that they will outperform petrol- and diesel cars. Traditional car manufacturers are now trying to compete to make an electric vehicle—not because governments are mandating that they do it. Next year there will at least be one car model with a range of about 400 km, and cost a little over NOK 300,000, and several are following – this is reasonable for a car in Norway. People are also starting to realise that there is very little maintenance with an electric vehicle. Just the fact that you do not need to change your oil when you have an electric vehicle is a severe blow to traditional industries.

The traditional OEMs (car industry) have spent a lot of resources developing the combustion engine so there is no wonder they have been reluctant to change. My point is that this is changing, and quickly. With new players entering the market they have to adapt, if not they might end up like Kodak or Nokia.

We get many different types of international visitors at the EV Association, every week: media, politicians and different companies. They want to see what a relatively mature electric vehicle market is like and learn from us – I think we have had nine different visits only from South Korea so far this year.

We also get visits from several different car producers, who have realised that if they do not get on board they will be left behind at the station. They are coming here to learn and understand, and see Norway as an example of tomorrow’s car market.  The growth of the electric vehicle market is shifting the focus of the automobile industry. I think the Tesla Model 3, which saw more than 400,000 pre orders in three weeks was a real wake up call for the traditional OEMs. This has not happened with any product before—ever.

There are other trends too: future car sharing and autonomous capabilities will change how we use our vehicles. Many young people in cities do not really see the point in owning their own vehicles. This is also something the car industry is very aware of. One example is that Volvo recently teamed up with Uber, another is that all Tesla cars now are being produced with full self-driving hardware.

You also see that owners of EVs are investing in their own renewable energy generation, mainly solar. Although this is expensive, people like the idea of being able to run their clean vehicle on renewable energy. The amount of people who have electric vehicles is also changing how electricity providers interact with their customers. Distributed generation is a trend that is developing fast all over the world, and it will have a major impact on the business of utility companies. So will efficiency, storage and demand management. Electricity stored in a customer’s electric vehicle can also deliver energy back to the grid. All this means that electricity providers are no longer going to be solely in the business of delivering electricity, but instead will have to become providers of services.

These trends are also adding to the reasons EVs are shifting paradigms.

Are all the people purchasing these electric vehicles concerned with the environment?

We send out an annual survey to all of our members where we ask this question. When we allow people to check one option, they say economic concerns, but when they can check multiple boxes, they say environment is one of their top three concerns.

EV powered by renewable energy

What do you say when people say that electric vehicles are using dirty energy from the fossil fuel energy production?

Even with the European energy mix an electric vehicle pollutes far less than a petrol or diesel car. Also, running an electric car is more efficient than conventional engines as the electric motors have an efficiency of over 80 %. Also electricity production is part of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, so more EVs will not increase emissions anyhow. That the power generation is still not 100 percent clean is not an argument against EVs, but a reason to increase renewable power production. The price of renewables like solar and wind is quickly decreasing and it will still take some time to clean up the grid, but regardless, we should not have to wait until we have 100 % renewable energy to use efficient vehicles—we can start now.

You have partnered with ECOHZ to make sure that all electric vehicles in Norway consume only renewable electricity, is this useful to your members?

I think many of them find this very useful when confronted with myths around electric vehicles, where people say for example that they are using dirty energy.  It is nice for many members to know that when they are purchasing an electric vehicle, they will be charging it with renewable energy documented with Guarantees of Origin.

Can you say anything about what is it like working with ECOHZ?

It has been a good cooperation all the time. Our organisations are on the same page when it comes to what we expect for the future. This deal that we have with the Guarantees is something that we have had for many years. It was quite nice to have that cooperation with ECOHZ, already from the beginning, before my time they could see the potential and the changes that are occurring in the electricity market. We often hear from our members that our partnership is positive.

Do you have a personal reason for being interested in the electric vehicle market?

For me, it has always been about the environment. EVs are a way to reduce emissions from transport. If we are really going to make a difference we need to change transportation. And of course, electric cars are fun as well.