Norway’s lessons for urban electric vehicles

What lessons can be learnt from the success of electric vehicles in Norway? Photo credit: Nissan Leaf in a bus lane

What lessons can be learnt from the success of electric vehicles in Norway? Photo credit: Nissan Leaf in a bus lane, Norsk Elbilforening

At first sight, Norway doesn’t seem like a natural stamping ground for electric vehicles. A big oil producer, it has a low population density, with urban areas separated by mountainous terrain. Not a place where you’d want to worry about running low on battery juice, something that will happen much more quickly in the harsh Nordic winters when turning up an electric car’s heating can dramatically reduce its range.

But despite the obstacles, huge oil wealth, an egalitarian, civic-minded tradition and a culturally ingrained stubbornness have come together to make Norway the world’s number one country per capita for monthly electric vehicle sales and overall ownership.

So how did Norway get to this point? Perhaps more interestingly, what does a country where 10% of all vehicle sales are electric actually look like? And how can the rest of the world avoid the problems that are now threatening the Norse transport revolution and even casting doubt on the very idea that greater electric vehicle use is good for cities and the people who live there?
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Another take on undersea batteries

Little more than a fortnight after a Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposal to store wind energy in a form of underwater pumped hydro comes news of a Norwegian company with a similar idea, according to Gigaom. The system proposed by Subhydro would consist of concrete tanks sited on the seabed at depths of between 400 and 800m.

‘Discharging’ the battery would consist of opening a port to allow seawater to rush into these empty tanks at many times atmospheric pressure, driving a turbine and generating electricity. Recharging is simply a matter of reversing the process, using cheaper non-peak or surplus energy to pump the water out of the containers. The company is claiming an 80% efficiency for the system, which they say is comparable to efficiencies achieved at conventional plants.

Marine Renewable Energy

As noted in our recent editorial in Marine Renewable Energy, the UK faces a challenge in incorporating large amounts of renewable energy onto its grid without significant new flexible generation, demand-side response… or energy storage capacity. One solution might be for it to ‘borrow’ pumped hydro capacity from Scandinavia, via one of a couple of major interconnectors currently under investigation.This approach is feasible but not for the faint-hearted, Energy Storage Report has learned from Ilesh Patel, partner at the consultancy Baringa. “Is an interconnector to Norway an additional form of storage? The answer is yes,” he says. “Will that work all the time? It depends on the economies of arbitrage. You can only store power in Norway’s reservoirs when there’s an economic profit to be had by doing so.

“You might make that bet if you thought you might need that power next week, but it carries a risk with it.”