You park your rented electric car at a waterfront charging station and step onto a driverless, silent ferry to a nearby island for a brunch of local, sustainably-sourced seafood. Later that day, you board an all-electric passenger ferry for a cruise along one of the world’s most desired tourist attractions: the Norwegian fjords. In the evening, you return the car and board a small battery-powered flight to Oslo or Bergen.
In the minds of many, such a sustainable travel itinerary is as far off into the future as the 2050 net-zero target shared by many in the travel industry. Yet in Norway, it’s on the verge of reality.
Over the last few years, more new all-electric cars have been sold in Norway than any other type combined, including hybrids. While this has attracted international media attention, the country’s other developments are flying under the radar.
If electric planes take to the skies as expected within the next 4-6 years, the last piece of the puzzle needed for a zero-emissions tour of Norway will slot into place.
Building on electric car success
Norway’s decision to go all-in on electric power is confusing to many familiar with the country’s status as an oil and gas major. Yet Norway’s domestic energy demand is almost exclusively met by hydropower, making a green shift to electric-powered transport in Norway a truly sustainable one.
The rapid take-up of electric cars has only been possible because of a long-term commitment from several different flavors of government. A substantial investment in national charging infrastructure together with tax breaks encouraged a change in consumer behavior.
Early adopters have benefited from as much as ten years of financial incentives including reductions in sales tax upon purchase, zero road tax, reduced road and ferry tolls, and even free parking for a time.
This success has given authorities confidence that a similar shift is possible in other travel-related industries. Huge sums of research money from both Norwegian and European funds are being spent on electric transport projects, which are beginning to bear fruit.
Electric flights will be here sooner than you think
Of all the battery-powered transport options, electric aircraft are likely to provide a nervewracking experience—at least to begin with. It might be impossible to believe, but that experience is almost upon us.
Gothenburg-based Heart Aerospace has announced ambitious plans to create a production and test flight facility in the city. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has signed a letter of support with the Swedish company and intends to purchase its ES-30 aircraft for commercial use in 2028.
The ES-30 will offer airlines up to 200km (124 miles) of battery-powered flight, with the hybrid option extending that range to 400km (248 miles).
Heart sees Scandinavia and Norway in particular as the perfect proving ground for electric aircraft. Founder and CEO Anders Forslund explains that a business model suited for electric aircraft already exists in Norway: “Norway already has a point-to-point network of short routes serviced by small propeller planes. Given the Norwegian success in electrifying road transport, we are confident that its mandate to electrify all domestic flights by 2040 will also be a success.”
SAS isn’t the only Scandinavian airline interested in electric aviation. Norway’s domestic airline Widerøe has long declared its interest in replacing its fleet of propellor planes with electric aircraft as soon as possible, potentially beginning in 2026.
The ambitious airline has created Widerøe Zero, a subsidiary company that has partnered with Rolls Royce and Embraer to explore electric aircraft opportunities.
Battery-powered coastal cruising
Meanwhile, government regulations are also forcing changes on the water. The Norwegian government’s decision to ban all but zero-emission vessels from the UNESCO World Heritage site Norwegian fjords will come into force by 2026.
This will have a major impact on cruise traffic, but also the world-famous Norwegian coastal route that welcomes international tourists as well as local ferry passengers.
Norway’s coastal expert Huritgruten is in the midst of a $100 million investment program that will see all seven of its ships that serve the historic coastal route installed with hybrid propulsion systems. The ships will be IMO Tier III compliant and able to sail in the protected fjord region.
While Hurtigruten has entered the hybrid game, its upstart competitor Havila is already one step ahead. Havila Voyages began sailing the coastal route this year after the government decided to introduce competition on the route. The line has launched two of its four planned cruise ferry ships that are among the world’s greenest.
“We are determined to take care of the nature and local environments we operate in and want to show that it is possible to take steps for the future, today,” says Lasse Vangstein, head of communications at Havila.
The 640-passenger ships are equipped with what Havila describes as “the world’s largest battery packs” and are charged using hydropower when docked.
Vangstein says that the vessels’ four-hour battery capability is revolutionary in terms of the environment, but also for safety: “A battery pack this size is a backup that has never existed on any ship before. It will ensure that we always make it to safe waters along the coastline, even in the unlikely event of engine problems.”
While new tunnels and bridges over the past decades have reduced the number of car ferries working on Norway’s fjords, they are still a critical transport link in many rural communities and even on some major roads.
All-electric passenger ferries have been operating on sightseeing routes in the fjords for several years now. Designed to meet the government’s 2026 requirements, the Vision of the Fjords and Future of the Fjords have provided a glimpse into what the future of ferry transport will look like in Norway. The most notable aspect of these vessels is their silence, only adding to the experience of sailing along the heritage waterways as eagles swoop overhead.
Right now in Trondheim, things are going a step further with open public testing of the world’s first all-electric, fully-autonomous passenger ferry to be used in an urban area.
Getting to Norway remains a problem
While a zero-emissions trip around Norway is very much on the horizon, the problem from a green perspective remains getting to Norway in the first place. International air travel is one of the worst polluting travel options, more than cancelling out any benefits you may enjoy once in Norway. But things are changing, slowly.
More ferry options are being introduced from elsewhere in Europe. The new Holland Norway Lines service from the Netherlands has launched, while plans are afoot to relaunch a much-missed direct ferry from the U.K. to the west coast of Norway.
Train travel from the U.K. and mainland Europe to Scandinavia is also improving, with London to Stockholm now possible in just 24 hours. Onward connections are available to Oslo.
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