Opinion: Georgia can learn from Denmark on EVs

Nation discovers a formula that’s helping overcome drivers’ “range anxiety”.
Taxi drivers charging their EVs on the streets of Copenhagen say it takes one hour for a full charge. They’ve noticed customers often ask for rides in electric vehicles. (Photo/Ralitsa Vassileva) 

Credit: Ralitsa Vassileva

Credit: Ralitsa Vassileva

Taxi drivers charging their EVs on the streets of Copenhagen say it takes one hour for a full charge. They’ve noticed customers often ask for rides in electric vehicles. (Photo/Ralitsa Vassileva) .


Denmark has been working for a decade to encourage drivers to consider buying, and driving, electric vehicles. The effort’s involved government incentives, as well as investment by entrepreneurs and others to expand the nation’s network of EV charging stations. Their work so far has helped reduce Denmark’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as noise pollution.

Georgia is on a mission to become the electric vehicle capital of America. Since 2020 the state has attracted more than $25 billion in e-mobility investments with various incentives. In the next three years Kia, Hyundai and Rivian EV plants will start manufacturing hundreds of thousands of cars per year.

Will these EVs find enough drivers? Denmark got people into EVs with incentives, reliable charging and beating “range anxiety”.

Incentives worked in Denmark

Four years ago, James Atkin switched to an e-vehicle, lured by Denmark’s incentives to boost sales. The family got a big break on a hefty registration fee, pay minimum auto taxes and park for free almost everywhere. “Electricity is a lot cheaper than fuel. And there’s very little in the way of servicing. The initial purchase cost was more expensive, but all cars in Denmark are extremely expensive” due to registration tax, says Atkin.

Transportation accounts for more than one-fourth of Denmark’s carbon emissions, so EV sales are key to reaching the nation’s goal of net zero emissions by 2040. That’s a decade before most countries, including the United States expect to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere to prevent the worst effects of climate change. In 2021, 21% of vehicles sold in Denmark were electric, compared to 2.8% in Georgia.

“If we mess the climate up, we can’t grow food; there’s droughts and floods all the time, which we see increasing. So it’s important that we do something about that while we still can,” says Atkin.

As EV use went up, the first noticeable benefit was quieter streets. Research shows that chronic noise is not just annoying, it increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. Denmark’s air is essentially free of pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, which makes people susceptible to asthma and respiratory infections. Greenhouse emissions are down by 30% since 1990, among the biggest reductions in the world, according to United Nations data.

Denmark began this journey about 15 years ago with incentives for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, says Dr. Emmanuel Genteel, an environmental engineer who teaches at Denmark’s International Study Program, DIS-Study Abroad.

As EV sales picked up, tax revenues from gas powered vehicles went down. Denmark needed money for roads and infrastructure so it phased out EV incentives in 2016. When sales plummeted from thousands to a few hundred per month, the capital Copenhagen reversed course. Georgia has faced its own issue with incentives. New EV registrations here plummeted 89% after the state replaced a $5,000 tax credit with a $200 annual registration fee in 2015. But EVs are now eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

Strategy and entrepreneurship

Denmark soon discovered that incentives were not enough to make a strong start. “I think you can see this in every country that goes through this story. In the beginning, the market was very, very, very slow and the number of EVs for many years was very, very low. And the charging infrastructure was very local, connected to first the university, or a specific big company”, says John Paulsen, Director of Danish e-Mobility, which represents the electric mobility industry.

“Range anxiety,” the fear of a dead battery on the road was trumping incentives. In 2013, a poll by IDA, the Danish Society of Engineers found only 13% of Danes would buy an electric car, citing price, battery life and lack of charging stations.

Paulsen says Danish entrepreneurs took a big bet on the EV market and built a nationwide network of charging stations with relatively few incentives. They started in the big cities, gradually fanning out across the country.

Anders Magelund, chief of climate policy at Denmark’s biggest association of business leaders, Lederne, says the shift to EVs was part of a long term energy strategy. The 1973 oil crisis was a wake up call for Denmark to reduce dependence on oil imports by using more native resources like wind. As climate change became more apparent in the 1980s, clean energy gained importance.

“Engineers started working in their garages with new clean tech solutions, and then developed the first prototype wind turbines, and then it was scaled up because investors and pension funds saw an opportunity to develop a unique solution,” says Magelund.

EVs are considered zero-emission only if they run on green energy, so Denmark’s early focus on renewables is paying off now.

The road (and curves) ahead

Since 2021, Denmark’s charging stations have doubled from 0.83 to 1.68 per 1,000 people, according to The Ministry of Transportation. For comparison, Georgia had 0.39 charging stations per 1,000 people in 2021. Despite a growing charging network, many Danes still lack confidence to buy electric as a recent IDA survey revealed. Some 49% of respondents see a problem with long distances between plug-in points, while 43% are concerned about not being able to charge where they live.

Critics like Carlos Garcia-Robles, who teaches environmental policy at DIS-Study Abroad, want Denmark to invest more in public transportation. “[When] the transport bodies and the fossil fuel companies [are] making all the big decisions, you start seeing how car infrastructure dominates, instead of other types of transport,” he said. “Freedom is when you do not depend on one single type of technology or you don’t depend on your car. It’s called car dependency, right”?

Professor emeritus at Virginia’s George Mason University Bill Schneider says freedom has a different meaning in the U.S., too. It means having a car that takes you anywhere. “Today, most Americans live in the suburbs and are totally dependent on automobiles. Suburbs were created to keep cars happy. They give people freedom -- they can go wherever they want anytime they want. Every American teenager sees a driver’s license and access to a car as a personal declaration of independence,” he said.

Even so, Dr. Schneider says Georgia’s EV transition can work if charging becomes as accessible as gas stations are now.

Ralitsa Vassileva, a former CNN anchor and correspondent, now teaches journalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She is also co-director and teaching lead of the Solutions Journalism Hub for the South.

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