One electric car owner’s cry for help from Norway’s northern reaches

Cable For Charging An Electric Car An electric car charger. Credit: Think Stock Photos

Despite Norway’s unflagging devotion to electric cars, which has made it the hungriest consumer of e-cars in Europe, the country’s infrastructure for charging them has lagged in Norway’s far northern Finnmark county.

As the new year began, one resident of Kirkenes, on the Russian Norwegian border, got sick of waiting, and independently installed a charge station in the city’s downtown on his own – and he hopes that will be an encouraging kick in the rump of sluggish energy companies, which are slow to develop his region.

That resident is Finn Helge Lund, 46, and he has owned a Tesla for the last five years. He says his tiny northern town is home to about 20 electric cars, which their owners charge at home or at their offices.

“This, in principle, is enough,” he said by telephone. “The problems arise when you need to drive an electric car from Alta, and then go to Murmansk, and in Kirkenes there is nowhere to recharge. We all understand that without the appropriate infrastructure, no one will be in a hurry to switch to eco-friendly transport.”

nils_charger-murmansk Bellona's former General Director Nils Bøhmer, far left, plugs in the Park Inn's new e-car charger. Credit: Lev Fedorov

For comparison, Lund says Northern Finland’s climate for charge stations is far healthier than northern Norway’s. On the Finnish side of the border, there are at least three places one can juice up an e-car – in Inari, in the ski resort of Levi, and in Rovaniemi.

“If you show up in an electric car in Finnmark, Norway, then everything get much more complicated,” said Lund. “To replenish their batteries, drivers have to negotiate with cafes or offices.”

Lund says the purpose of his charging station is to spark ecological tourism and to stimulate a more rapid transition to electric vehicles in the north of the country.

The total cost of installing the charging station is about $3,000, of which the station itself costs $1,500. The cost was shared by Lund himself and the landlords of the building in central Kirkenes where the station is located, just across from the Scandic hotel.

“This is a small charging station. The fact is that in the center of the city there are problems with capacities, and we could not supply a more powerful charger,” said Lund. “It can simultaneously charge two cars, the power of each outlet outlet is 7 kW. If the power of the network allowed for it, we would install a high-speed charge.”

It can charge two cars, and will be free for all.

Rune Rafaelsen, Kirkenes’s Mayor, regrets the lack of e-car infrastructure in his city, and said he is in the market for an electric car himself. He told Bellona that a faster e-car charger would be coming to the city this summer, adding he was open to helping improve the electric car infrastructure between his city and Murmansk.

Last year, Bellona donated an e-car charger to the Park Inn hotel in Murmansk. That charge station marks the culmination of a journey Bellona began in 2014, when its president, Frederic Hauge, made what was perhaps the first West-East journey in an electric car to Murmansk. Once there, however, recharging was a fraught task.

Inspired by that necessity, Bellona saw that the hotel was wired up for charging, and embarked on a mission with Murmansk city officials to encourage the spread of e-car infrastructure between Russia’s Arctic capital and the northern reaches of Scandinavia.

Norway’s power company Varanger, however, has been slow to respond. The company’s director, Terje Skansen, told Bellona that there simply wasn’t enough demand in Finnmark Country for e-car chargers. But he did say that there are plans to install a high tech fast charing station in Kirkenes this year, and another in Vadso the following year.

But Lund said he hasn’t heard anything from Varanger.

“We would be happy to help them and would be happy to cooperate,” he said “But they did not apply for financial support, nor for technical support. It’s not just a small number of electric cars in the city, it’s about desire or unwillingness to develop the necessary infrastructure. Only then will the number of electric vehicles increase both in the city itself and among people coming here from other regions and countries.”