Local authorities can play key role in spreading electric vehicles

6:36 min

As the technologies improve and prices fall, local authorities in Sweden can play a key role in spreading the use of battery-powered vehicles.

In each of the last five years Sweden has doubled the number of of plug-in electric vehicles – that's electric vehicles (EVs) as well as plug-in hybrids.

The better availability of EVs here is in no small part to an effort by local authorities begun in 2010. Eva Sunnerstedt, in charge of the clean vehicle and fuels program for Stockholm municipality, helped lead a project to pool the buying power of municipalities and companies in order to make the Swedish market look better to electric vehicle producers.

"Public procurement is a good instrument when it comes to driving environmental issues," Sunnerstedt told Radio Sweden. "If you start asking questions for something you want, you kind of create a market."

According to Sunnerstedt, municipalities manage around 30,000 vehicles for services ranging from public transportation to taxi rides for the elderly to service cars for municipal workers. The cars are replaced fairly frequently, on average every 3 to 5 years, and they are rarely used for long trips so that battery range is rarely an issue. All that means local authorities are in a good position to use, provide infrastructure for, and promote private use of EVs.

Six years after the electric car procurement began, it's much easier for local authorities to make EVs a part of their operations. Torunn Acking, who works for the purchasing arm of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, told Radio Sweden that EVs are now included in regular framework contracts alongside other green-tech vehicles as well as gas-driven ones. 

Sweden ranked 3rd in the world for EV purchases in 2015, according to statistics from the association of vehicle manufacturers, Bil Sweden. Around 2.5 percent of all car purchases in 2015 ran on battery power. But that purchase rate pales in comparison to EV-leader Norway. Last year 1 of 5 vehicles purchased there ran on battery power, 10 times the purchase rate in Sweden.

Norway's success when it comes to EVs is in no small part because the national government made a concerted effort to encourage people to buy electric cars.

"They've done a lot of public charging in Oslo, and they say one of the benefits from that is the information is spread," said Sunnerstedt. "People are aware that electric vehicles are here, and there's charging spots all over the place."

On Monday evening Stockholm's politicians also adopted an ambitious environmental strategy that would explicitly reduce overall vehicle traffic despite projections that the capital's population will grow substantially.