What started as a small gesture to help a few electric car owners North of Russia’s Arctic Circle juice up their rides has blossomed into a prestigious award from Russia’s Ministry of Energy.
The award was first prize for a foreign entrant in the fourth annual ENES contest, Russia’s nationwide competition for energy efficiency, and Bellona’s General Manager Nils Bøhmer was in Moscow on Friday to pick it up.
In June, Bellona opened the first electric car charger in Murmansk at the city’s Park Inn Hotel. The charger can charge two e-cars or hybrids at a time, and for the first two years that it’s there, drivers can use it for free.
“We are pleased that our concrete example attracted such attention,” Bøhmer told deputy energy minster Anton Inyutsin at the award ceremony in Moscow on Friday. “This is exactly what we try to do – a small project leading to a lot of attention and more projects.”
“It’s the snowball effect,” he added. “This is the first such award Bellona has received from Russia and from that point of view it is very valuable.”
Really, Bellona has been spiriting e-car technology into Murmansk for years. The first time, in 1992, it was aboard Bellona’s ship, the Genius. The activists sailed into the Arctic harbor and lowered the gangway, inviting curious onlookers aboard to kick the tires of its sci-fi contraption.
In 2014, Bellona President Frederic Hauge repeated the stunt, this time driving a Tesla Model S from Oslo to Murmansk in the first known West-East e-car trip ever.
While there, the only way to refuel his Tesla was to run an extension cord out the window of his room at the Park Inn Hotel. Again, townspeople gathered as if looking at a UFO, and Hauge offered thronging TV reporters a spin.
But it was on that trip Bellona decided it wanted to leave a little e-car technology behind, and Bellona’s Murmansk offices hashed out the details with the hotel.
In June, to mark Russia’s Year of the Environment, Bellona and the hotel unveiled an EVlink Parking AC 7-22 kW, 2 – type 2 RFID charge station that has already gained the notice of Russian and European visitors alike.
Since then, the Russian government has made a modest push to bring e-cars a little closer to earth. In 2015, Russian electric utility Rosseti and Alabama-based Schneider Electric – which makes the Park Inn’s charge station – launched a collaboration to boost the number of EV charge points in Moscow.
The same year, the Kremlin announced a one-year moratorium on import taxes for electric cars. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an initiative to produce a Russian-made electric car as a centerpiece to revitalizing the country’s ailing auto industry over the next decade.
Ownership of electric cars in Russia still has not spiked to anywhere near the record-breaking levels that Norway has seen. But, as is the case in many places, starting on the infrastructure for electric cars will likely spark a growth in the number of people willing to buy them.
On Friday, Bøhmer said Bellona would like to help Russia in doing just that.
In November the organization will conduct a series of talks with Murmansk officials to start building a second Arctic area charger, which Bøhmer hopes will spawn more along the road between the city and Kirkenes, Norway. The group is also casting its electric eye toward St Petersburg as well.
“We’re interested in figuring out if its possible to drive from St Petersburg to Moscow or Murmansk in an electric car,” he said. “I wouldn’t assume so, and that’s why we’re focusing on how to develop e-car infrastructure here.”
Such were the modest beginnings for electric cars in Norway, where in 1987, Hauge and Bellona brought their first electric car over the border from Sweden and charged it up on an outlet at Bellona’s office. By 2016, electric cars represented more than 15 percent of all the cars on Norwegian roads, and the government is pushing to make the country’s vehicles all electric by 2025.