Vegard Frihammer, green executive officer at Greenstat AS, explores Norway’s green transition to electric and hydrogen vehicles – from slow to progress to European pioneers.
With a strong focus on the oil and gas industry, and an already high degree of renewable energy in the energy production mix, it has proven hard for Norway to initiate proper action in its green transition, as it aims for an even more radical shift towards becoming a 100% decarbonised nation. In many ways Norway has acted as the hare in the race against other tortoise nations, with a disadvantageous starting point. But falling asleep after the oil party, it finally seems we are realising that Norway must use the opportunity within the green sector – both to get rid of remaining CO2 emissions in Norway and to develop a green industry that could create jobs for the people leaving the oil and gas industry.
Overcoming the problem of low cost, surplus renewable energy
With a 97% share of renewable energy production in the Norwegian grid, Norway has one of the greenest energy systems in the world. This is a great advantage, but it also functions as a brake when it comes to new renewable energy, as new energy sources find it hard to compete with low cost hydro power.
Despite these obstacles, new renewable projects are emerging – mainly in the form of wind farms, but also through decentralised energy such as roof top solar and geothermal energy. The shift is partially backed by large foreign companies such as Google, who are purchasing Norwegian energy through power purchase agreements, but also by the population in general, that sees local power production as a hedge against steadily increasing grid tariffs and a viable option for the green transition.
The electric car revolution and collapse of diesel
The Norwegian transport sector consists of approximately 2.5 million cars; of these, approximately 140,000 are electric. That might not sound too impressive, but if you look at the sales statistics for new cars, the story is totally different. In Hordaland – a county on the west coast – more than 50% of all new cars were electric in March 2018. In addition, a lot of cars were plug-in hybrids, making the electrical impact even higher. At the same time, the share of diesel cars have dropped from 80% in 2010 to only 8% in 2018. This is what disruptive change looks like in real life. You will never see Norwegians going back to fossil fuelled cars as they find their new electric cars to be both better to drive and better for the local and global climate.
Hydrogen is finally being taken seriously
There are still very few hydrogen cars in Norway, counting for just above 100. But with a strengthened focus from the government and Enova, it looks like hydrogen could follow a similar path as seen for electric cars.
The infrastructure is steadily growing and in early 2018 the first hydrogen station was opened in Bergen, the second largest city. A second station will be opened in June 2018, serving the 25 cars registered in the region. In 2017, Enova launched a program which supported the construction of three new stations. A similar program will be launched in 2018, pushing forward the goal of 20 stations by 2020.
As the infrastructure for hydrogen cars, or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), is quite different from electric cars – battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – a dedicated national interest organisation called the Hydrogen Vehicle Association was recently formed. It will follow in the path of the strong Electric Vehicle Association, made up of more than 50,000 members.
A future for FCEVs in Norway
As people in general start to see the benefits of hydrogen over batteries when it comes to refuelling time and high-energy to weight ratio, more and more focus will be placed on hydrogen as a fuel for heavy duty trucks and the maritime sector.
From being a niche activity for the hydrogen evangelists, hydrogen conferences and meetings now attract large crowds from a broad spectre of groups, emphasising the technology’s role in the green transition.
The main highlight for 2017 saw the launch of the first commercial tender for a hydrogen ferry which will operate in Rogaland, initiated by the Norwegian Road Authorities. Service will commence in early 2021.
In addition, Viking Cruises have launched their plans for a cruise ship fuelled by liquid hydrogen, suggesting that the vessel will be ready for service by 2025. Jules Verne might prove to be right after all!
Politicians are getting greener
Being a leader is not always ideal when it comes to jumping onto new opportunities. As a strong oil and gas nation, Norway has had a lot to lose should climate action plans succeed. This has led to a slow approach of the green transition, and despite positive signals and lots of talk, very little has been done. But finally, this is about to change.
With minor oil and gas crises in mind, politicians now seem committed to place a significant focus on new green industries. And this time it is not only the small parties like the Green Party (MDG), the Liberal Party (V) and the Socialist Left Party (SV) that are promoting green solutions, it is nearly all the other parties, with the exception of the right winged populist party, the Progress Party (Frp).
A smart change of ministers and ownership of the major funding scheme, Enova, have also suddenly changed the situation as Ola Elvestuen, the minister of climate and environment, could now also be seen as the Minister of Green Energy. Changed from being a lazy hare, Norway is now picking up speed in its green transition and seems to be on its way to becoming the first zero fossil fuel emission nation.