What will it take to get electric cars on Russian roads, digital conference asks

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Publish date: August 19, 2020

Written by: Anna Kireeva

Translated by: Charles Digges

High sticker prices, bad roads and a lack of a charging infrastructure are conspiring against electric cars in Russia in gaining wide-spread popularity. And while there have been recent improvements geared toward emissions free vehicles, comprehensive support from Moscow is needed for electric car ownership to ever reach levels seen elsewhere in the world.

High sticker prices, bad roads and a lack of a charging infrastructure are conspiring against electric cars in Russia in gaining wide-spread popularity. And while there have been recent improvements geared toward emissions free vehicles, comprehensive support from Moscow is needed for electric car ownership to ever reach levels seen elsewhere in the world.

According to Nissan Manufacturing Russia, worldwide sales of electric cars last year surpassed 7 million. China saw the most of those sales, capturing 47 percent of the global market. Next were the European Union, with 25 percent and the United States with 20 percent. By contrast, Russia accounts for less than one percent of the market. Drivers in the country bought only 6,300 electric cars last year, the vast majority of them used.

“This shows the pace that the private electric transport market is growing, and the key driver is subsidies,” said Tatyana Gorovaya, the automaker’s government relations director, during “The Future of Electric Transport,” an online conference convened earlier this month.

The event was supported but the Skolkovo Innovation Center and brought together Russia’s key experts to discuss impediments to electric car development in the country.

China, the experts said, is also leading the world in the number of electric car charging stations it has built, with more than 300,000. The EU follows at over 170,000, and the US at 80,000. Again, they said, Russia’s 400 charging stations put the country at the bottom of the list.

A study by the KPMG consulting group had more sour news for Russia. Out of 25 countries analyzed for how receptive its consumers are to electric transport, Russia ranked 23rd. In terms of technological development and innovation, Russia ranked last, due to its lack of manufacturers investing in electric transport development. The country came in second last in terms of logistics and road conditions, as well as – of course – its number of charge stations.

press-mob-tesla-640x480 Frederic Hauge arriving in Murmansk in 2014, after completing a 2 000 km long journey from Oslo in Tesla Model S Credit: Nils Bøhmer/Bellona

Anton Vetrov, KMPG’s strategic and operational manager, said Russia has one successful emissions-free vehicle project underway – the electric busses that Kamaz is building. But these aren’t private transport.

“The nuance is that, in general, consumers believe that, rather than energy companies, manufacturers of electric cars should be responsible for the development of their industry as well as the infrastructure to support it,” said Vetrov. “The problem is that there aren’t any [electric car] manufacturers in our country and the charging infrastructure is poor.”

Who is building Russia’s charge infrastructure?

Rosseti, a Russian power company, has been the most active in pursuing a charging infrastructure for electric cars, installing more than 250 stations since 2013. Dmitry Plyushik, head of the company’s customer relations department, told the online conference that Rosseti will build another 1,000 by 2025.

“In 2020, we adopted a concept for the development of a charging network, which includes the construction of fast and slow charging stations both in cities and on highways,” he said.  “To do this, we work closely with the regions, where, together with regional governments, we develop and agree on appropriate programs. We will not work without regional support, since we are talking about very serious capital investments.”

Plyushik says that Rosseti develops its charge infrastructure in conversation with electric car owners, as they know best where to locate stations.

But Rosseti faces a host of problems as it progresses. The main difficulty, says Plyushik, is the problem of local electric capacities. Often the company finds that it’s impossible to increase capacity in areas it wants to build stations, or that increasing capacity would be prohibitively expensive.

Bellona has run into the same difficulties. In 2014, the organization’s president, Frederic Hauge, became the first person to drive a Tesla from Kirkenes, Norway to Murmansk.  Hauge was greeted on his arrival by curious spectator and reporters, and on the heels of the event, Bellona committed to donating an electric car charging station to Murmansk. It opened in 2017 to mark Russia’s Year of Ecology, and electric car owners in the Arctic can use it for free.

To build on that success, Bellona embarked on its Arctic Electric Road project, an effort to help connect Murmansk and Kirkenes via a network of charging stations along the 240 kilometer highway between them. The project has the active support of the Murmansk regional government and the Association for the Development of Electric, Unmanned and Connected Transport and Infrastructure, Russia’s biggest electric car lobby.

tesla_ParkInn electric car Roger Syversen's Tesla charging at the Park Inn Hotel in Murmansk. Credit: Park Inn Hotel

That notwithstanding Bellona ran into problems in Staraya Titovka, a village that stands exactly halfway between Murmansk and the Norwegian border – a perfect place to put a charge station, as well as a playground, a café, and a small motel.

It would have been perfect, says Yuri Sergeyev, Bellona Murmansk’s senior adviser for electromobility and renewable energy – if not for the cost of connecting the charger.

“Unfortunately, the implementation of the 75 kV fast charging project  [in Staraya Titovka has been suspended,” Sergeyev said. “The place has the necessary electric capacity – but it’s provided by a company that refused to connect it to the charging station…Diverting new powerlines to the area would be immensely expensive. We keep looking for options, but we should admit that we are at a dead end.”

According to Sergeyev, Teslas and the new Nissan Leaf can easily travel between Murmansk and Kirkenes without having to recharge. But older electric cars with shorter cruising ranges might not make it.

The organization nonetheless continues to support developing electric car infrastructure in Russia’s Northwest. Bellona’s Baltic Electric Road project aims to find partners and investors for charging stations on the road south to St Petersburg.

Those who took part in the The Future of Electric Transport conference remained optimistic as well. Indeed, the Russian government has finally taken some steps to encourage electric car ownership. In May, Moscow cancelled import taxes for electric vehicles. Charging stations, while still few, are being built. Electric cars have made it into economic planning documents. And there will eventually be subsides for Russian-produced electric cars – should the country ever begin to produce them.

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