The future is already here. It’s in Norway.

Ninety-three. 93. Seven less than 100. That’s the number of gasoline-fueled automobiles sold throughout the entire country of Norway in September.

Combined with another 190 diesel vehicles, they made up less than 3% of total sales. (1) In that same month, EVs and plug-in hybrids accounted for 93% of the new autos rolling off dealers’ lots. The country has set an ambitious goal to cease the sales of internal combustion engine cars by 2025, but that goal has already been effectively met. For this Scandinavian country, the era of the internal combustion engine is over.

As a result, Norway has become a testing ground for understanding what ditching fossil fuels means for the environment, employment and everyday life.

So, what has the transition meant for this country of 5.5 million people with the same landmass as California?

The City of Oslo’s air is now measurably cleaner, with noise levels reduced as older, noisier gasoline and diesel vehicles have been phased out. Greenhouse gas emissions in Oslo have plummeted by 30% since 2009, without causing mass unemployment among gas station workers or overburdening the electrical grid.

Levels of nitrogen oxides, harmful byproducts of gasoline and diesel combustion that contribute to smog and respiratory problems, have significantly declined with the rise of electric vehicle ownership. However, there’s still a challenge related to microscopic particles generated by tire and asphalt abrasion, an issue that electric vehicles, due to their weight, may exacerbate. (2)

Fortunately, Norway’s power grid has accommodated the increased demand for electricity, aided by its abundant hydropower resources. Electric vehicle owners predominantly charge their cars at night, when demand is lower and power is cheaper.

The transition to electric vehicles has not led to a spike in unemployment among auto mechanics. While electric vehicles require less maintenance than their gasoline counterparts, they still require servicing and repairs. Moreover, many gasoline cars will continue to need maintenance for years to come.

Electric vehicles are also fostering new employment opportunities, such as battery recycling centers like the one in Fredrikstad, which holds the potential to reduce the need for mining crucial battery materials. (2)

Norway’s experience offers a counterpoint to the dire predictions of some critics regarding electric vehicles. While challenges like unreliable chargers and peak-time congestion persist, the shift has prompted adaptation among service stations. At a service area south of Oslo operated by Texas-based Circle K, electric vehicle chargers significantly outnumber traditional gasoline pumps. During the summer weekends, as Oslo residents retreat to country cottages, queues for recharging sometimes stretch down the off-ramp. (2)

Not surprisingly, most Norwegians choose to charge at home during the hours when the abundant hydropower. However, apartment residents continue to face difficulties finding charging infrastructure, prompting discussions about increasing public chargers and reducing the number of cars on the road to enhance urban living conditions.

Perhaps the biggest losers in the transition are traditional car dealerships and their employees. Tesla and Chinese EV powerhouse BYD are making significant inroads in Norway’s market, while other European makers like Renault, Fiat, and BMW lag.

Norway’s journey towards widespread electric vehicle adoption offers valuable insights into the benefits and challenges of transitioning to electric mobility. Despite some hurdles, the country’s experience shows that electric vehicles can deliver environmental advantages without dire consequences reshaping industries and urban environments along the way.

Can our highways power our homes?

It seems a safe bet that some eco-friendly Californians have sat through one of the state’s notorious traffic snarls, stared at the empty acres along the highway, and thought, “Why can’t we put solar panels there?”

It’s a good question.

There are a lot of land requirements around building a highway, including ample buffer along the actual road. Barring an expansion, that land goes largely unused. Using it for solar panels is an obvious choice, but there may be an even more valuable use for it—energy transmission.

Canary Media (1) reports on California’s SB 49, a bill that would open up those unused tracts for the energy transition. It’s currently awaiting California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.

The legislation directs the California Department of Transportation to assess the feasibility of using the land it owns along highways for renewable energy, energy storage, and electrical transmission projects. The goal is to leverage the vast stretches of vacant land along California’s extensive highway network to contribute to the state’s clean energy goals.

The legislation, authored by State Sen. Josh Becker, has garnered support from various quarters, including environmental advocacy groups. It’ is seen as a pragmatic step towards not only expanding renewable energy infrastructure but also creating jobs and generating revenue through lease payments from clean energy developers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the transition to renewable energy is transmitting clean solar and wind energy to where it’s needed. Energy transmission issues are the biggest hold-up for solar developers. (3) And until 1989, federal regulations prevented using highway corridors to solve the problem.(1) Now, regulators actively encourage it, but inertia within state highway regulators and utilities has limited broad implementation.

Wisconsin is the one exception. The state passed a law encouraging the use of highway corridors for energy transmission in 2003. Since then, developers have completed 26 projects, putting up hundreds of miles of high-voltage transmission infrastructure along highways there.

However, each state has its unique regulations governing the use of land along highways, which can complicate clean energy initiatives. States like Oregon, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts have paved the way for solar development within state-owned highway rights of way. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration has shifted its stance, encouraging states to explore clean energy and connectivity projects along federal interstate rights of way.

Collaborative efforts between nonprofit organizations like Environment California and groups like The Ray, which specializes in sustainability and safety improvements on highways, have provided valuable data on the suitability of highway rights of way for solar development. Their initial study in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego counties revealed the potential for nearly 1 gigawatt of solar capacity along highways, sufficient to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

Another bonus is that highway-side solar projects offer financial benefits to state transportation departments, as solar developers lease the land and assume responsibility for maintenance. A study from the University of Texas at Austin estimated that solar projects along major interstate interchanges in the lower 48 states could generate $4 billion annually for state transportation departments.

While SB 49 may not be the headline-grabbing climate legislation in California, it represents a forward-looking approach to using highway land for renewable energy projects and transmission corridors. With the support of regulatory frameworks, collaborative efforts, and the need to meet climate goals, highway-side clean energy initiatives could play a crucial role in shaping the future of California’s energy landscape.

The Weekly Sunsong

Isn’t it good, Norwegian EV adoption rates?