Fording an Energy Fjord: Norway's Oil Savings

November 8, 2013 | 10:42 am
Josh Goldman
Former Contributor

When it comes to investing in clean transportation solutions, Norway is doing it right. Or should I say, Norway is gjør det riktig. The country famous for Vikings, the perfect complement to bagels and cream cheese, and Johan Olav Koss, is also a good example of a country working to reduce their oil use through transforming their transportation sector.

Why am I talking about Norway? Well, readers of the Equation should know that UCS has a plan to reduce America’s projected oil use by half in twenty years. One important facet of the Half the Oil plan is that it’s not predicated on technology that might exist in the future. Instead, Half the Oil is based on increasing the use of technology we have today — like electric vehicles and efficient gasoline-powered vehicles — and making smart investments in emerging oil saving technologies like better biofuels, fuel cell vehicles, and smarter transportation systems.

This post is part of Other Countries At Work, a series on oil-saving solutions abroad.

While the U.S. has made big strides toward using less oil, thanks in part to policies like the fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles that were finalized last year, more work is needed to stay on the path to Half the Oil. So we’re taking a look around the world to see how other countries are building a clean transportation future, and drawing on their experience to help the U.S. become a global leader in clean transportation technology. Although no country is flawless — Norway happens to be a fairly large oil producer and exporter, for instance — this series will focus on how countries are working to reduce their oil use. Of course, countries should be working to both reduce their oil demand and production, but that is fodder for another blog series altogether.

Norway’s commitment to clean transportation

Norway’s commitment to sustainable transportation begins with a simple statement: Transportation shall not cause serious damage to man or environment. As part of this national “environmental vision,” the Norwegian Public Roads Administration embarked on ten major research and development projects that focused on a wide range of oil saving solutions such as making freight more efficient, reducing vehicle use in urban areas, and increasing bicycling.

The Norway Highway Department has even examined the most efficient way to ford fjords. Bridges, it turns out, are superior to tunnels, since vehicles consume less gasoline driving across them compared to descending and ascending steep tunnel gradients.

Blue lit caverns in the world’s longest tunnel give drivers the illusion they are about to exit, when they may actually have miles to go.

The reverse is true when traversing mountains: the extra oil use and emissions associated with digging a tunnel are quickly offset by the gasoline saved by vehicles travelling through the mountainside, instead of winding their way up and down the steep slopes above. It should therefore be no surprise that Norway has the world’s longest road tunnel: a 16 mile tube punctuated by the occasional blue-lit cavern to give drivers the impression they are about to exit, even though they may still have several miles to go. Norway is so efficiency obsessed that they hold tunnel symposiums to geek out about tunnel dynamics.

Electric vehicle success in Norway

Norway also has strong incentives for clean vehicles. In a nation where high car taxes are the norm, the Norwegian government doesn’t levy import taxes on electric vehicles. As a result, this competitive pricing has helped the Nissan LEAF — an all-electric vehicle — become not just the best-selling electric vehicle in Norway for the month of October, but the overall best-selling vehicle in Norway for that time period. This milestone comes hot on the heels of reports that the Tesla Model S — another all-electric vehicle — topped Norway’s car sales in September.

The Nissan LEAF was not just the best-selling electric vehicle in Norway for the month of October, but the best-selling vehicle in Norway for that time period; period.

The Nissan LEAF was not just the best-selling electric vehicle in Norway for the month of October, but the overall best-selling vehicle in Norway for that time period.

Government incentives also help increase consumer appeal for electric vehicles. In Oslo, EVs can drive down the bus lane, cutting commute time down significantly during rush-hour traffic, and EVs can park for free in metered spots. Norway’s EV infrastructure is also impressive. There are almost 200 public charging stations in Oslo, and a total of 3,123 charging points scattered across the country. Back here in the U.S., the eight Governors who recently announced a joint plan to put 3.3 zero-emission vehicles on America’s roads by 2025 might study the success of these incentives to learn how best to deploy EVs here at home.

How you can get involved

Enacting policies that help consumers access and benefit from oil saving solutions is not only possible in Norway. The U.S. can and must continue adopting supportive policies and practices too, but these policies won’t promote themselves. Let your voice be heard and urge President Obama to commit to making the Half the Oil plan a reality. You can also sign up for our UCS newsletters and action alerts that make it easy to support the full range of oil solutions; from better biofuels to fuel efficiency standards and beyond. Together, we can make the Half the Oil plan a reality in the United States, and all enjoy the benefits from a Half the Oil future.