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Is there hope for electric cars?

Updated: May 28, 2020


Last year, I bought myself an electric car. Of course, I live in Norway, the country with the highest penetration of electric cars in the world. The primary reason for buying the car was the cost of driving my diesel car to work every day, costing appr. GBP 7 per day in road tax just to go to the office – on top of fuel costs. Due to the national incentives in Norway, I would save practically 100% of both these operating costs – on top of a lack of VAT and import fees at purchase - plus various other incentives.

As a result of all the incentives, which are actually being debated by politicians now due to lack of tax revenues, more than 40% of new cars sold in Norway at the current time are electric. The overall political ambition is to reduce carbon emissions supporting the environment, something which is at the top of the agenda these days during the World Economic Forum in Davos. At personal level, while I clearly support a drive to improve the environment, I must admit that the deciding factor for me was the financial incentives. Today I can drive around (at least for short distances) with a car almost free to use – as the cost of electricity for me is about 1 NOK per kWh – practically unnoticeable on my electricity bill.

Now, if I turn to another aspect of it, as I have spent 5 years of my working life establishing and managing Telenor Group’s efforts on supply chain sustainability (or responsible supply chain management), a very suppressed topic in the international press, by car manufacturers and by politicians is the ethics around it. Most (60%) of the cobalt used in EV batteries are coming from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with clear challenges on child labour and workers’ rights. On top of that, it has been claimed by UK scientists that “to meet the UK’s electric car targets for 2050 (only) we would need just under twice the current annual world cobalt production”.

While electric cars clearly have CO2 benefits (at east in the countries they are used), there are clear challenges not only around supplies for their production – but also around the sustainability of it all. Personally I have been thinking that I better buy an electric car while it still pays off, since sooner or later the electric car hype will get a backlash – and then politicians will change the incentives (again) – and then I might be waiting for hydrogen cars to become mainstream – and they also have issues around them.

Therefore, I was very happy to see the following news now in early January: IBM unveils heavy metal-free battery that performs better than Li-ion. Maybe there is hope for electric cars after all?

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