What can the UK learn from Sweden, Norway, and Germany’s experiences with public EV charging infrastructure and electric vehicle uptake?
In this article
The Mer team has extensive experience in operating public electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in Norway, Sweden and Germany. All three nations are high market performers when it comes to EV sales in Europe, alongside the UK. And all are facing the pressing challenge of needing to improve public EV infrastructure at pace, to keep up with growing demand.
We’ve taken a closer look at all three markets to assess what the UK could learn from Northern Europe’s experiences.
Norway’s EV Market
How many electric cars are there in Norway?
No other country in the world has more EVs per capita than Norway. As of the end of 2020, 54% of all new cars sold were electric, taking the total no. of EVs and PHEVs registered in the country to over 464,000. (source)
Recently addressing the reasons behind EV uptake, Christina Bu, Secretary General of non-profit, EV Norway, said “the number one reason is economic.”
Two key factors have helped the country establish EVs as the new normal – low/zero tax and cheap electricity costs.
Mer public charging station in Norway
A unique approach to vehicle taxation
In 1990 Norway removed purchase and import tax for zero emission vehicles, and in 2001, introduced a VAT exemption (which will continue until at least 2022) – setting the market up perfectly for a revolution.
In fact, change would have taken place sooner if there had been viable electric vehicles on the market for drivers to buy. And so Norway’s policies had little impact until around 2010/11 when the manufacturing market caught up and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf launched in the country.
A host of other government incentives for zero emission vehicle drivers have no doubt helped with uptake, such as reduced road and ferry tolls, discounted public parking, widely available free public charging, use of the bus lanes, no registration tax on used car sales, no annual ownership tax, and no fuel tax.
But perhaps the biggest difference between Norway and other countries, resulting in a change of buyer behaviour at a faster rate, is their relatively high taxation of petrol and diesel vehicles – at 25%. Making zero emission vehicles the natural and more affordable choice than their counterparts.
Cheaper running costs due to low electricity rates
Not only do EVs cost less at the initial purchase stage in Norway, but low electricity prices result in further savings throughout ownership. The average domestic electricity price is roughly 13.55 euro cents per kWh versus around €1.85/litre for petrol.
The state of EV charging infrastructure in Norway
Since 2010 the number of EVs per charger has dropped from more than 160, to less than 120. There’s now more than 16,000 charging points in the country – which is said to represent more than 9% of the total charging stations in Europe. The country has even ensured there is a fast charging station every 50km on main roads. (source)
Nobil’s database showed the following breakdown of charging stations available in 2020:
Fast chargers: 1,366 (+ 29%)
Rapid chargers: 226 (+ 804%)
Tesla superchargers: 770 (+ 37%)
Also of note is the advancement of home charging stations and the ability to connect these to a household fuse cabinet, pair with a smart meter and even carry out load balancing. Making home charging more efficient and affordable.
Challenges for Norway’s EV market
Despite clear wins, the nation still faces some of the same challenges as the rest of the world in it’s journey towards electrification.
Most notably, there have been technical difficulties with their public network of charging stations which can be expected as the network grows. Another issue being payment as most still rely on text message rather than other payment methods including an app or contactless. There is also a lack of roaming agreements between charge point operators, so drivers can’t use the same account at multiple stations but these are improvements Norway are looking to tackle.
Sweden’s EV Market
How many electric cars are there in Sweden?
As of August 2021, there’s said to be over 266,000 rechargeable vehicles registered in Sweden (source).
The EV market share in the country is unique – with a clear preference for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), which represent 80% of EV sales, with just 20% representing pure EVs.
Sweden is actively pursuing climate targets – with ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2045 and end the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2030.
The country has even launched the world’s first electrified road in Stockholm, which actively charges cars and lorries using an innovative energy transfer system (source).
Incentives helping EV adoption in Sweden
As with Norway, EV drivers get access to free public parking in many cities, and can make use of the bus lanes.
Various government grants are in place such as their ‘Bonus-Malus’ national grant scheme for the purchase of EVs and PHEVs, with €6,000 available for up to 25% of the car’s purchase price for (new) low emission vehicles. There is also a company car tax deduction of up to 40% for EVs and PHEVs. The grant amount is up to a maximum cost of 10,000 SEK (€1,000).
Grants for charging hardware are also in place – with a ‘Charge the car grant’ potentially covering the cost of up to 50% of EVSE materials for individuals (up to a value of €1,000) and businesses (up to a value of about €1,500). And to encourage the implementation of fast chargers, there’s a Swedish Transport Association Fast Charging Grant, for up to 100% of the costs of fast charging public-use EVSE.
Following in Norway’s footsteps, the government is also now taxing regular petrol and diesel vehicles at an increased rate for the first three years after registration. With what they call “Super green” cars, exempt for the first five-years after registration, working out at annual tax relief of about €170. (source)
Cheaper electricity rates in Sweden
Again, as with Norway, Sweden’s low electricity prices have aided EV uptake – with rates said to be among the lowest in Europe. Domestic rates were as low as 17.18 euro cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the second half of 2020 – a record low unseen since 2010.
The state of EV charging infrastructure in Sweden
As of Q2 2021, there are said to be over 13,700 public charge points in use in Sweden – up from just 500 in 2012 (source).
It’s said that over 65% of Swedish EV drivers (source) can access charging stations at home, work or in other public places – something that will have certainly helped in combating range anxiety, a fear preventing widespread adoption in many countries.
Mer public charging station in Sweden
Challenges for Sweden’s EV market
A sticking point for Sweden when it comes to widespread EV uptake is electricity demand. It’s estimated that by 2045, EVs will consume nearly 10% of Sweden’s total electric power output (source). Current demands in Stockholm and other major cities in the country are already outpacing supply – with officials predicting capacity will come under strain by 2022.
The grid is said to be particularly stretched during winter months due extra to the demand for lighting and heat – meaning EV drivers will have to put up with slower charging at stations. Investment is taking place to rebuild parts of the national grid, by 2030.
And as with Norway, and many other nations, in order to aid further EV adoption, Sweden will need to introduce roaming options for drivers wishing to make use of many different charge point providers, and direct payment either via contactless or an app.
The network will also need to expand to keep up with demand. Taking Stockholm as an example, Kristofer Fröjd, head of business development at Ellevio, Stockholm’s power distributor, said the city will require 25,000 chargers by 2030, and currently has only 4,000.
Germany’s EV Market
How many electric cars are there in Germany?
To date, Germany has struggled to lower emissions in their transport sector – and the nation’s progress in terms of driver take-up has been regarded as slower compared to other markets. Gains made in the EV sector have been overshadowed by a trend towards heavier vehicles (there were 71% more trucks and 31% more cars on the road in 2019 than 30 years earlier, and 95% of new vehicles in 2019 still used gas or diesel. (source)
That being said, Germany is the biggest single market for battery EVs in Europe, with 64,700 sold in the first quarter of 2021 (source). And in August this year, Germany officially confirmed reaching its target of one million registered battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (source). 54% percent of the registered electric vehicles are battery-electric and 46% plug-in hybrids.
The nation has been making further headlines over the last few months following an announcement from Economy Minister Peter Altmaier that the country is expecting to have 14 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on its roads by 2030. The estimate is 40% higher than previously given due to a recent hike in EV sales.
What has helped the deployment of EVs?
In accordance with the Paris Agreement, Germany must reduce emissions from the transport sector by 40-42% by 2030. (source)
In response, the German government has committed to serious investment through the combination of a post COVID-19 stimulus package and their Climate Action Programme 2030 – representing billions of dollars in investment via subsidies and tax incentives.
With the nation’s ‘Umweltbonus’, drivers can save up to €9,000 on the purchase or lease of a full or part electric vehicle.
Those purchasing used EVs and plug-ins can also take advantage of the same grant, provided they were registered after 4 November 2019 and haven’t received the same grant previously.
In terms of taxation, fully-electric vehicles registered between 2011 and 2030 qualify for a 10-year exemption. So EV drivers are able to save on average €194 on ownership tax per car a year. Plug-in hybrid owners still have to pay the tax, but it’s less than fossil fuel vehicles.
Fully-electric company cars with a list price below €60,000 are currently taxed at only 0.25% of the list price each month (versus 1% for fossil fuel powered cars).
A VAT reduction for EV purchases down to 16% was in place until the end of 2020, but has now expired and is back up to 19%.
Many local incentives are also in place, and EV drivers may qualify for a further €1,500 off the purchase of an EV.
And as with Norway and Sweden, in many German cities, EV and plug-in car drivers can take advantage of free public parking and driving in bus lanes.
Car sharing is a popular form of transport in Germany and the country has the largest number of shared cars on its roads (source). Various eCarsharing programmes exist for drivers who cannot afford or do not need to own an electric vehicle. This innovative service also helps reduce congestion in cities like Cologne, Hamburg or Munich. Mer in Germany offers eCarsharing and Mer charging stations come with 100 % renewable energy making ecarsharing a truly green option.
The state of EV charging infrastructure in Germany
In 2020, there were an estimated 45,000 publicly available charging stations for electric vehicles in Germany . With the most common type being a fast charger (up to 22 kilowatts).
A new €130 billion stimulus package has been introduced to help Germany towards their 2030 climate goals. With €2.5 set aside for battery cell production and the expansion of charging infrastructure – sure to help them with ambitions to attain 1 million charging stations on German roads by 2030, alongside the planned 14 million EVs.
The government has also announced it will require all petrol stations to offer EV charging in the future – so that fuel stations can function alongside EV charging.
Challenges for Germany’s EV market
As faced by most nations, charging infrastructure needs to expand at an exponential rate. For example there are currently 1,700 publicly available chargers in Berlin – which is nearly double the amount the previous year – but still too few to cope with demand. It’s estimated there will be a need for 400-800,000 charge points in the capital alone by 2040 (source).
Again, the issue of off-street parking is going to present an issue for uptake, with many not having such access.
Germany’s electrical grid will also need to improve in order to provide enough energy to cope with demand – particularly from larger commercial vehicles needing to charge. It’s estimated that by 2030 there will be an increase in energy demand and peak load of 4 to 6 percent, which McKinsey say will require a ‘targeted upgrade of the grid to ensure stability of supply’ (Source). However, McKinsey’s findings state that ‘managed-charging approaches’ to reduce the cost of upgrading transformers, and Vehicle-to-Grid technology to help balance the pressure on the grid, will help in coping with the challenge.
The market could also stand to gain from developing further user-friendly advancements such as ‘Plug and Charge’ currently being explored in the UK, enabling drivers to plug in their vehicle and immediately begin charging without having to use a form of payment. The electric car will be identified once plugged in and will authorise the charge.
In comparison to Northern Europe, the UK EV market is growing quickly, with stats showing that there were nearly 300,000 pure-electric cars on UK roads at the end of August 2021, and more than 600,000 including PHEVs.
In fact, in the first quarter of the year, the UK overtook France to become Europe’s second largest electric car market (source).
With starting prices for EVs beginning to come down thanks to battery development and an increase in models on the market – alongside plans to stop the sale of fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2035 – the UK should see continued growth.
That being said, Greg Archer, UK director of environmental think-tank Transport and Environment believes the UK is still an average performer when it comes to car sales (source).
And it’s well-known that the UK is facing many of the same issues as Northern Europe, such as a lack of EV infrastructure, off-street parking, grid strain, and an underdeveloped roaming network.
A few possible learnings for the UK include:
Continued and consistent encouragement of EV uptake through government grants, and tax incentives and avoiding changing the rules every few years. In fact the SMMT believe these should stay in place for at least 6 years (source).
Research and development into the socioeconomic context in which EVs are sold and used.
Following Brexit, ensuring there are rules in place requiring carmakers to continue to sell electric cars here.
A national plan to increase the number of public charge points, ensuring the right chargers are in the right places – and also giving local authorities official guidance on how to support the efforts.
Increasing tax on fossil fuel vehicles to make EVs fully cost competitive.
Our team is on a mission to bring clarity & ease to the process of public EV charge point installation for public bodies.
To get to grips with the process we’ve pulled together a core checklist covering eleven things you need to know when getting involved with public EV charging.
EV Charging Checklist
Whether you’re part of a team choosing to procure charging installation through an existing framework, running your own tender or exploring options, this checklist will help you identify what you need to know before stepping into EV charging infrastructure project.
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