Australia could learn a lot from Norway when it comes to electric cars

Electric cars are a hot topic as the major political parties slug it out over whether utes will survive the impending electron-led revolution or if Australian families will still be able to load up the SUV for a driving holiday.

What better place to see what the electric change holds than Norway? In 2018 some 57 per cent of new vehicles sold there were electric – well up on the 0.2 per cent in Australia.

Norway has the highest take-up of EVs anywhere in the world.

Same same…

Venturing into Oslo traffic is not like teleporting into some futuristic world where cars look like science experiments and sound like Doctor Who's Tardis.

It's surprisingly similar to Australia, albeit with many smaller cars and some models we don't see down under.

Most cars are still powered by petrol and diesel, the legacy of decades of vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

There are some hybrid buses, while trucks still run on diesel.

Teslas are also as common as Commodores in Australia, the promise of performance and luxury clearly appealing to Norwegians.

Time saver

One of the EV incentives in Norway is lower tolls and the ability to use bus and taxi lanes, sometimes sidestepping a demoralising traffic jam.

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But given the popularity of EVs there's also a fair few motorists taking advantage of the time saver.

It's in those special purpose lanes that it becomes more obvious how many electric cars are mixing it with regular traffic.

Yes, petrol and diesel are still the dominant means of propulsion, but there are plenty of electric vehicles too.

Pay up

Australia is still in the honeymoon phase for electric cars, and organisations as diverse as various motoring clubs, state governments and shopping centres typically offer free charges.

But in most instances, that's likely to change once the popularity of EVs starts to grow.

Of the charging stations we stopped and looked at in Norway all were calling for payment.

You can either swipe a credit card or special EV charging card or arrange payment through the infotainment screen in the car.

That said, the cost of charging was typically between about $10 and $30 significantly less than the cost of refuelling a car.

Anxious times

Range anxiety is a very real thing in Australia, the concern that your EV will make it to the next charging station – or home – ever present. Blame it on the lack of public charging infrastructure.

It's almost a non-issue in Norway, where many service stations now have EV charging areas. They still look like regular petrol stations, but off to the side or out the back are a handful of charging bays to cater for the growing population of EVs.

The sheer number of charging stations also means you're never wondering where your next charge will come from.

EVs not only predict how much further you can travel on a charge – making planning easy - but also delve into navigation data to ensure you're always within reach of somewhere that can provide a top-up.

Local connection

As a nation we no longer produce cars, but one Australian company is playing a big role in keeping electric vehicles moving in Norway – and around the world.

Queensland-based Tritium is providing the hardware for the Ionity charging network being funded by car makers and rolled out across Europe.

It includes one of the charging stations we stopped at in Norway.

The statuesque structures look similar to petrol pumps, both in their size and the rubber hose hanging out of them. Perhaps it's no coincidence, familiarity the aim?

Speed check

While charging stations obviously have a limit on how powerful the charge is (measured in kilowatts) the cars also have a limit on how much they can accept.

And, even though the car we were driving was rated to accept 110kW of charge (a household powerpoint is 2.4kW), the best we saw on the display was 83kW. The temperature of the vehicle's batteries (they get warm when being used) and the ambient temperature affect how fast the car will allow charging.

The charger estimates how long it will take to top up, but if you don't need a full charge you can disconnect.

Electric can include petrol. Really…

The definition of electric cars can be confusing.

As with both sides of politics in Australia, that classification of an electric vehicle in Norway also includes PHEVs, or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. They team a petrol/diesel engine with an electric motor and a battery pack typically good for 40-50km of electric running.

So, even though you can run purely on electricity, they can also tap into the existing refuelling network to go anywhere a regular car can.

There are plenty of PHEVs in Norway, although the emphasis is on full electric cars given the tax and toll benefits they enjoy.

Australia is very different

Granted, Australia is a long way from Norway and our motoring needs in some parts of the country are very different.

But that doesn't mean there won't be longer term solutions that will suit farmers, miners, adventurers and anyone else who wants to travel in remote areas.

Major car makers acknowledge there will be alternatives to battery-powered vehicles decades from now.

Most major manufacturers are working on fuel cells, which use hydrogen to perform a chemical reaction to create electricity, which then powers an electric motor.

It's also worth keeping in mind that even with Labor's bold 50 per cent EV (and PHEV) target, there will be plenty of cars running on fuel.

Waiting game

What's most obvious driving in Norway is that driving EVs has been normalised, to the point where they blend seamlessly with regular traffic.

That'll happen in Australia one day, the only unknown being how quickly.

Most of that will come down to prices; EVs are currently much more expensive.

But, like Australian political parties in recent years, that will change.