BAMBLE, Norway — About 110 miles south of Oslo, along a pine- and birch-lined highway, a gleaming gas station offers a glimpse into a future where electric vehicles rule.
Chargers far outnumber gas stations in the service area operated by Circle K, a retail chain that started in Texas. During summer weekends, when Oslo residents escape to country cottages, the charging line sometimes goes down the ramp.
Marit Bergsland, who works at the store, had to learn how to help frustrated customers connect to chargers, in addition to her normal duties of flipping burgers and ringing up purchases. salty licoricea favorite delicacy.
“Sometimes we have to give them coffee to calm them down,” she said.
Last year, 80 percent of new car sales in Norway were electric, making the country a vanguard of the transition to battery-powered mobility. It has also turned Norway into an observatory that explores what the electric vehicle revolution could mean for the environment, workers and life in general. The country will end sales of internal combustion engine cars in 2025.
Norway’s experience suggests that electric vehicles bring benefits without the dire consequences predicted by some critics. There are problems, of course, including unreliable chargers and long waits during periods of high demand. Auto dealers and dealers have had to adapt. The transition reshaped the auto industry, making Tesla the best-selling brand and marginalizing established automakers such as Renault and Fiat.
But the air in Oslo, Norway’s capital, is measurably cleaner. The city is also quieter as noisier petrol and diesel vehicles are phased out. Greenhouse gas emissions in Oslo have fallen by 30 percent since 2009, yet there has been no mass unemployment among gas station workers and no collapse of the power grid.
Some lawmakers and corporate executives portray the fight against climate change as requiring grim sacrifices. “That’s not the case with electric cars,” said Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian EV Association, which represents owners. “It’s actually something people embrace.”
Norway began promoting electric vehicles in the 1990s to support Think, a domestic electric car start-up that Ford Motor owned for several years. Battery-powered vehicles were exempted from value added tax and import taxes and from highway tolls.
The government has also subsidized the construction of fast-charging stations, which is essential in a country almost as large as California with a population of just 5.5 million. The combination of incentives and ubiquitous charging “removed all the friction,” said Jim Rowan, chief executive of Volvo Cars, based in neighboring Sweden.
This policy put Norway more than a decade ahead of the United States. The Biden administration is aiming for 50 percent of new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030, a milestone Norway passed in 2019.
A few feet from the six-lane highway that skirts Oslo’s waterfront, metal pipes stick out from the roof of a prefabricated shed. The building measures pollution from traffic zooming a stone’s throw from the bike path and port.
Levels of nitrogen oxides, the byproducts of gasoline and diesel combustion that cause smog, asthma and other ailments, have plummeted as electric car ownership has increased. “We are on the verge of solving the NOx problem,” said Tobias Wolf, Oslo’s chief air quality engineer, referring to nitrogen oxides.
But there is still a problem where the rubber meets the road. The air in Oslo has an unhealthy amount of microscopic particles, which are partly created by the abrasion of tires and asphalt. Electric vehicles, which account for about one-third of the city’s registered vehicles but have a higher share of traffic, may exacerbate the problem.
“They are really much heavier than cars with an internal combustion engine, and that means they cause more abrasion,” said Mr. Wolf, who like many Oslo residents prefers to get around by bike.
Another lingering problem: Apartment dwellers say finding a place to plug in their cars remains a challenge. In the basement of a restaurant in Oslo, local legislators and residents recently gathered to discuss the issue.
Sirin Hellvin Stav, Oslo’s deputy mayor for the environment and transport, said at the event that the city wants to install more public chargers, but also reduce the number of cars by a third to make streets safer and free space for walking and cycling.
“The goal is to reduce emissions, which is why electric vehicles are so important, but also to make the city a better place to live,” Ms. Stav, a member of the Green Party, said later in an interview.
Electric cars are part of Oslo’s wider plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to almost zero by 2030. All city buses will be electric by the end of the year.
Oslo is also targeting the construction industry, which is the source of more than a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions. Contractors bidding on public projects have a better chance of winning if they use electricity or biofuel equipment.
In a park in a working-class district of Oslo last month, an excavator scooped up soil for a decorative pond. A strong cable connected the excavator to the power source and powered its electric motor. Later, the soil was removed by an electric dump truck.
Normally, the crew would have to stop working when the children took a nap at a nearby nursery school. But the electrical equipment was quiet enough for work to continue. (Children in Norway nap outside, weather permitting.)
Espen Hauge, who manages urban construction projects, said he was surprised by how quickly contractors replaced hard-to-find electrical equipment with diesel machines. “Some of the projects that we thought were impossible or very difficult to make zero-emission, we still got tendered for zero-emission,” he said.
Ms. Stav acknowledged what she called the hypocrisy of Norway’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases while extracting plenty of oil and gas. Fossil fuel exports generated $180 billion in revenue last year. “We will export the pollution,” Ms Stav said, adding that her party had called for a phase-out of oil and gas extraction by 2035.
But the Norwegian government did not withdraw oil and gas extraction. “We have several areas in production or development that ensure energy security for Europe,” Amund Vik, state secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, said in a statement.
Elsewhere, Norway’s electricity grid has held up despite higher electricity demand. It helps that the country has enough hydropower. Still, electric vehicles have slightly increased demand for electricity, according to calculations by the EV Association, and most owners charge their cars at night when demand is lower and energy is cheaper.
Elvia, which supplies electricity to Oslo and the surrounding area, had to install new substations and transformers in some locations, said Anne Nysæther, the company’s chief executive. But she added: “We haven’t seen any problem with the network collapsing.”
Even among car mechanics, unemployment did not increase. Electric cars don’t require oil changes and require less maintenance than gasoline cars, but they still break down. And there are plenty of gas cars that will need maintenance for years.
Sindre Dranberg, who has worked at the Volkswagen dealership in Oslo since the 1980s, has been trained to service electric vehicle batteries. Was it difficult to make the transition? “No,” he said as he replaced faulty cells in a Volkswagen e-Golf.
Electric cars create jobs in other industries. In Fredrikstad, 55 miles south of Oslo, a former steel mill has become a battery recycling center. Workers, including some who worked at the steel mill, disassemble the batteries. The machine then crushes the packets to separate the plastic, aluminum and copper from the black matter, which contains key components such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite.
The plant owned by Hydrovolt is the first of several the company plans to build in Europe and the United States. There isn’t much to recycle yet, but eventually recycled batteries could significantly reduce the need for mining.
“If we can take an active material that’s already in the product and create a new one, then we create a shortcut,” said Peter Qvarfordt, CEO of Hydrovolt, a joint venture between aluminum producer Norsk Hydro and Northvolt, batteries. manufacturer.
If anyone should be worried about their job, it’s car salesmen. The almost complete disappearance of petrol and diesel vehicles from showrooms has changed the order of the industry.
Moller Mobility Group has long been Norway’s largest car dealer, with sales of $3.7 billion last year and offices in Sweden and the Baltic countries. The Moller store in Oslo is full of electric Volkswagens like the ID.4 and ID.Buzz. Combustion cars are few and far between.
Still, Tesla significantly outsells Volkswagen in Norway, capturing 30 percent of the market, according to the Road Information Council, compared to 19 percent for Volkswagen and its Škoda and Audi brands.
Sales of electric cars from Chinese companies such as BYD and Xpeng are also growing. If this pattern is repeated elsewhere in Europe and the United States, some established automakers may not survive.
Petter Hellman, CEO of Moller Mobility, predicted that traditional brands will regain their footing because they are trusted by customers and have extensive service networks. “But sure,” he added, “Tesla shook up the industry.”
Circle K, which bought gas stations that belonged to a Norwegian government-owned oil company, is using the country to learn how to serve electric car owners in the United States and Europe. The chain, now owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard, a company based near Montreal, has more than 9,000 stores in North America.
Guro Stordal, CEO of Circle K, has the daunting task of developing a charging infrastructure that will work with dozens of vehicle brands, each with their own software.
Electric vehicle owners tend to spend more time at Circle Ks because charging takes longer than filling the gas tank. This is good for food sales. But gasoline remains an important source of income.
“We see it as an opportunity,” Hakon Stiksrud, head of global e-mobility at Circle K, said of electric vehicles. “But if we’re not able to take advantage of these opportunities, it quickly becomes a threat.”