Danes want electric cars but that has its price
by Tabea Guenzler
June 6, 2019
Four out of ten Danes want a greener car. The Danish government did not make emission-free transportation top priority in the past. Taxes on EVs pushed people away. Aarhus is therefore setting up own climate plans to be emission-free by 2030.
Denmark. 1975. It is Christmas. In Tårs, a small town in the Hjørring municipality, Northern Jutland, six-year old Jesper Berggreen unwraps a present. A gift from his father. Berggreen unpacks an electric blue colored race car track, powered from a cheap battery, copied of the well-known adaptor powered Scalextric, an English slot car brand.
However, the excitement doesn’t last too long. With disappointment Berggreen watches his new race-car-track running out of energy in just twenty minutes. Knowing, that batteries are expensive in the mid-70s, he scouts for a transformer to improve his race-car-track. Inside an old radio, Berggreen finds one, takes it out and repairs it. Berggreen then carefully dissembles the tiny cars, analyzes the electric motor and tries to figure out how it works. The small electric cars stun the young Danish boy. ‘This is the future’, he thinks to himself.
In the 1970s, Berggreen didn’t know much about pollution or emission free cars, but when he turned eleven years old, he designed his first electric vehicle with an 880 Volt drive drain. Berggreen then told his grandmother that this model would be in production by the year 2000. It did not happen. “Luckily for me, other people made electric cars”, Berggreen says today.
Emission free with EVs
Electric cars are built by Tesla, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, Peugeot and more manufacturers. Emission free means, that these cars do not produce any greenhouse gases that are main causes for climate change and global warming. In 2015, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found out that electric cars in Europe, emit about 50 per cent less CO² than gasoline cars and 40 per cent less than diesel cars.
Denmark has therefore put up an ambitious goal and wants to become fossil fuel-free by 2050. Nevertheless, plans to reduce greenhouse gases were set up long before the first electric vehicles entered the market. In the 1980s electricity came from coal-power plants which caused a high rate of carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere.
When in 1986, the Chernobyl disaster happened, movements like “Atomkraft, Nej Tak” pressured Danish politicians to act. Since then Denmark has increased the installation of offshore wind parks and became one of the leading European countries using renewable energies instead of fossils.
Aarhus phased out coal as the main source for its district heating and electricity in 2016. Now, the electricity is coming from local farmers in Lisbjerg which use straw to produce biomass that goes into the system. More biomass is produced by Ørsted, a factory in Studstrup. Charging stations are fully provided with that green energy and with more EV-users in Aarhus more people contribute to cleaner air. This is a rarity, as most cities still rely on electricity gained from coal or nuclear power plants.
In April, 585 electric vehicles were registered in Aarhus, according to Danske Elbil. In the Climate Plan from 2016-2020 it was calculated, that 3 out of 1000 people use an emission-free car in Aarhus. Nationwide only 4 out of 1000 Danes drive an electric car.
“The CO² emission decreased by 50 per cent since we changed to biomass”, says Karina Svanborg, project manager at the Department for Climate and Green Transition of the Aarhus Kommune. “We had a project with the Social Housing to provide shared mobility for the residents”, she continues “and the outcome was positive.” In the evaluation Svanborg and her team found out that all residents were satisfied due the equal opportunity for everyone to use a car. The team also learned that this project can change something, if there are fewer cars on the road that need to be charged. “We want to continue to support this, though it is difficult to change from petrol to electric in all districts”, Svanborg points out.
Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark with a population of more than 340.000. The city is in Central Jutland at the East coast. In the north and south of Arhus, the waves of the Baltic Sea come slowly crushing through the shallow water on to the sandy beaches.
In the summer the seaside is a popular spot for residents and tourists to enjoy a swim in the water. Forests in the surrounding areas are inviting people to bike.
“Currently the market situation is a lot more positive after sales of electric vehicles (EV) from 2015 to 2016 almost completely stopped”, says Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens, Assistant Professor at Aarhus University. Zarazua de Rubens investigates how sectors can be decarbonized and focuses on transport and energy systems.
After sales of electric cars reached its peak in 2015, there was a sudden drop on the market. From January 2016, the government decided that EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) were no longer exempt from a registration tax which already applied to ordinary cars.
49-year-old Jesper Berggreen claims that incentives are a solution to have more electric cars on the road in Denmark.
He lives in Djursland, a town thirty kilometers outside of Aarhus. Berggreen’s workplace is a laboratory at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Aarhus.
Every now and then, he takes the bike to work, while his electric car is charging at home or at the nearby parking space.
Today he drives a Tesla. His ninth electric vehicle. Berggren points out, that this is not the type of Tesla he intended to drive. “It is actually not my car. I ordered a Tesla model 3, after three years of waiting. But there has been a problem with the delivery”, Berggreen explains. Tesla, a company founded by a group of engineers in 2003, gave him the model S 75 D with a four-wheel drive instead, to bridge the waiting time.
The delivery period of electric cars does take an ordeal on customers, agrees Dan Pederson. The IT technician and Aarhus resident has a Tesla model 3, which was delivered after two years of waiting. To pay for the car Pederson did not take a credit from the bank and instead saved all his money. “I would consider myself as middle class and I want to show that anyone can buy a Tesla. Even people like me”, Pederson says.
Pederson has always been interested in a Tesla car, especially after his brother got one. He did look at other EVs before placing his order back in March 2017 to compare prizes and range. “Some people have range anxiety”, Pederson says and tabs a battery symbol on the screen. It is almost full. ‘75 per cent’, it says on the display. Pederson tabs on another symbol and demonstrates that the car can reach 392 km with that amount of energy. However, range can vary from vehicle to vehicle, depending on the model, or if it has an all-wheel drive, a dual or single motor and the size of the battery.
The two companies are leading the Danish market and are main providers of the infrastructure of charging stations in Aarhus now. Charging stations are found next to public buildings, supermarkets, the library, community center and at several parking lots throughout the city.
But for residents who live in Apartments, finding a charging station nearby can be a challenge – therefore most of them buy a hybrid car. Hybrid cars are not fully electric but have a battery, which recharges while driving.
It can recharge also from rolling down a hill, hitting the breaks or by slowing down. The hybrid is combined with a normal combust engine a in-between-solution to go green. Because going fully electric is expensive.
When do EVs cause harm to the environment?
The Hyundai KONA electric costs around 349.000 DKK (€ 47.000). Despite the high price tag, it is the most demanded car, says Kristian Køppen, salesperson at Hyundai Aarhus A/S. “But it takes up to nine months of waiting until the KONA is delivered from South Korea. Most customers want that car because of its great range of nearly 450 km”, he says. The ones who come have a larger income than regular customers. “I would say, yes, they are from the upper society and people who already know much about electric cars, come in well-prepared”, Køppen says.
“Since January we have sold between 15-20 electric cars, including the plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). For the upcoming eight months, we have ordered 24 more KONA electric cars”, says Køppen and underlines that the numbers could be higher, if the government would remove the registration tax.
“In my opinion they are doing double standards, when talking about tackling climate change and doing green politics but then putting a tax on electric and hybrid cars”.
The fear to not run out of power while driving an electric car, comes along with larger and heavier lithium-ion batteries. Batteries are replacing the combust engine and are the power behind any emission free transportation.
But with a vision of becoming a fossil-free nation in future, an impact on the environment is impossible to avoid, clarifies Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens. The fact that electric vehicles also cause harm to the environment – forces consumers, politicians and manufacturers to rethink the transportation process and supply of materials.
Multiple chemical components are used in the production of batteries. Some of the chemicals are extracted in South America. Some come from underground mines on the African continent. Lithium is one of the most important minerals used in the production, next to nickel, cobalt and other rare earth elements (REE).
Lithium is also one of the lightest metals and extracted from Salt Lakes near the Anden mountain range in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Extracting lithium reduces the groundwater for local animals and farmers in these areas.
Mass production of hybrid and electric cars comes at a price. Going emission free can mean child labor and inhumane working conditions in mines controlled by rebels in northern Congo. It can even cause Uranium to be extracted as a side-component when mining for REEs. Soon this may happen in Greenland. An Australian mining company gained a license to mine at the Kvenefjeld on the southernmost tip of the country.
Gerardo Zarazua de Rubens agrees that minerals extracted from Salt Lakes in South America to produce batteries is an important factor. “But there will always be some sort of footprint. The focus now should be on driving green, with the climate change happening now”, he says. “We have to minimize our global footprint, therefore shared mobility could be a good option, but it will probably become just a section of the market not the rule”.
The Hyunday salesperson, Kristian Køppen, looks skeptic into the future: “With the registration tax still high for electric cars, customers won’t come in large numbers, even if the government is reducing the tax by 10 per cent each year”.