Murmansk tries to bring spark to electric car ownership

nils_charger-murmansk Bellona General Director Nils Bøhmer, far left, plug in the Park Inn's new e-car charger. (Photo: Lev Fedorov)

To boost the number of electric cars in Northwest Russia, the government in Murmansk is weighing incentives it can offer its drivers, like easing the transport tax and spurring the installation of multiple charge stations.

It’s undeniable that electric cars are gaining momentum worldwide, and Russia is feeling the impact. According to data from Autostat, the country’s vehicle statistics bureau, there were 1,800 electric cars registered in Russoa at the beginning of this year.

While that’s a small number compared to other countries, it represents explosive growth over the previous year, during which only 1000 were registered. What’s more, that figure doesn’t account for the import of used electric cars, which are especially popular in Russia’s Far East. Anecdotally, there are around 1,000 of these, and their owners took to Vladivostok’s streets last year to demand the government install more charge stations there.

But that anecdote reveals an important truth about the spread of electric cars: If you can charge them, they will come. That plus a healthy package of benefits for owning them virtually guarantee that they will give traditional cars a day at the races. That’s the formula followed by Norway, the world leader in electric car ownership, where over half the cars sold last year were hybrid or electric.

This week, the Murmansk regional parliament started considering ways to get a little further down that road. On Monday officials met to discuss how alternative energies like wind could help power the vehicle recharging posts the regional government intends to build. Maxim Belov, chairman of the region’s Committee on Economic Policy, Energy and Housing, told the gathering that electric cars are inevitable, and the region had better get ready.

murmansk charger 1 Bellona's new e-car charger in Murmansk. Credit: Bellona


“The transition to electric vehicles is a mass trend,” he told the gathering. “According to Bloomberg, by the year 2040, 54 percent of the cars sold in the world will be electric. The main question is whether we will come to this inevitability prepared or not. I believe that we must start preparing for this now. You can start with small preferences .”

He said he would buy an electric car himself if there was more than one place in Russia’s Arctic capital to charge it.

For now, though, Murmansk has only one operating charger at the Polyarny Zori Park Inn by Radisson Hotel, which was put there by Bellona last year as a gift to the city to honor Russia’s Year of Ecology.

“We need electric vehicles. They will not come soon, but they will start to appear in large numbers,” said Yevgeny Nikora, Murmansk’s deputy governor. “We should develop the infrastructure quickly.”

He, too, is another electric car owner-in-waiting, and says he will buy one when there are more charging stations and when the prices for the cars come down.

In order for that to happen, said Yury Sergeyev, who’s the coordinator for renewable energy projects with Bellona in Murmansk, Russia’s government needs to address the lack of charging stations – which boils down to simplifying the rules for doing so. For instance, he said the procedure for issuing the necessary documentation to install charging points needs to be streamlined.

The government should also include electric cars on its roster of energy efficient technologies that get tax breaks and subsidies, as well as develop a convenient means for outfitting standard automobile fillings stations with charging points.

“Experts predict that if these measures are implemented, the fleet of electric vehicles could grow by up to 75,000 to 100,000 electric vehicles within three to five years,” said Sergeyev. “Bellona is convinced of the need to develop similar projects in our region. Moscow and St. Petersburg have surpassed us.”

Indeed the Moscow region has already repealed the transport tax for electric car owners, and the city of Moscow is expected to follow soon. Both Moscow and St Petersburg have special traffic lanes for electric cars, and they also get free parking. And in both cities, infrastructure is paving the way: St Petersburg has 50 charging stations for electric cars and Moscow has 46.

Bellona is doing what it can to spark charge station growth in Russia’s Arctic capital as well. Earlier this year, the government of Murmansk and Bellona signed an agreement to encourage a line of charge stations between Kirkenes in Northern Norway to Murmansk, starting with one in Staraya Titovka, the halfway point between the two cites.

Bellona also plans to host an electric car rally between the two cities this summer for e-car drives from Russia, Norway and Finland.

Anna Kireeva

anna@bellona.ru