Bellona and the city government of Murmansk are trying to pave the way for a future where Russia’s northernmost capital and Norway are connected by a chain of electric car chargers.
That is the high hope reflected in a memorandum of cooperation signed by Bellona, the Murmansk government, a host of Russian energy firms and the Park Inn Hotel, which boasts the single electric car charger on the Kola Peninsula –a recent gift from Bellona meant to spark the hoped for progress.
The memorandum of understanding came out of a round table discussion this week between Bellona and the Murmansk city government on spurring a local infrastructure for electric cars, and making the region more palatable to e-car motorists from Europe.
“The Murmansk region must be the leader in charging infrastructure for electric cars,” Yevgeny Nikora, the region’s deputy governor, told the roundtable. “For this it’s not necessary to have many electric cars in Murmansk itself – we can orient ourselves toward motorists who will be coming to us in from other countries and other regions. Electric cars are the coming reality.”
The roundtable outlined an ideal map of where to put e-car charging stations, which focuses on the motor routes between Murmansk and Kirkenes, Norway, Murmansk and Lotta, Finland, and between Kandalashka, Russia and Salla, Finland.
However, one hurdle to this seemingly simple aspiration is various legislative blind spots on the Russian side, particularly Russia’s Land Code, which doesn’t at present recognize electric car chargers as an example of major infrastructure construction.
And that absence create mores complications with each step: there are no official guidelines on how to connect e-car chargers to the electric grid, no codes for the earthworks requires, no procedures for registering the chargers with any bureaucracies and so on.
On the one hand, said the roundtable participants, one option would be to install charge stations at already existing gas stations. Significantly, there’s already Russian governmental decree from 2016 that directed filling stations to do exactly that.
Bellona's electromobility roundtable in Murmansk. (Photo: Bellona)
However, gas stations that have so far followed that law can be counted on one hand.
Iya Gordeyeva, who heads up AuditEnergoGrup, a St Petersburg company that sells and installs e-car charging stations, said the decree failed to proscribe how, exactly, gas stations were to install chargers. She added that gas stations routinely lack surplus power to devote to e-car chargers.
At the moment, of course, Russia doesn’t have any bragging rights on the number of electric cars charging stations that line its roads. That record is held by the Netherlands, a small country that has as many 72,000 charging stations. Japan, meanwhile, has several more charging stations than it does gas stations, which number 40,000.
Russia is barely at the start of the road. Some charge stations have been installed in Moscow and the Moscow Region. St Petersburg has 28 charge stations, and some are opening in Sochi and Kaliningrad as well.
And there is the one Bellona helped install at Murmansk’s Park Inn Hotel.
Exactly two months after that charger opened, a driver arriving in a Tesla from Austria plugged into it. The charger also served to answer the continual chicken or egg question posed by the e-car revolution – and replaced it with an answer to another aphoristic head-scratcher: If you build it, they will come. It’s now clear that they e-car revolution in Russia will only happen when Russia has enough places to charge their revolutionary vehicles.
A Tesla Model X on Bellona's charger in Murmansk.
Credit: Courtesy of Park Inn by Radisson
None of this is to deny the financial issue: e-cars are still an expensive luxury in Russia, something akin to an oligarch’s affection for Rolexes and yachts. Yet at the same time, according to Gordeyeva, drivers of electric cars are already saving about $4,000 a year by plugging into free charge points in Moscow.
So Russia doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to support environmentally clean transport: The stimulus measures for electric cars are basically the same the world over.
“Norway is the country that has the most electric cars per capita – there are more than 120,000 of them on the roads there right now,” said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s general manager.
This is a result, he said, of the Norwegian government has made a point of supporting environmentally friendly transportation and of cutting carbon emissions – something they have done by granting subsidies, privileges and tax-breaks to electric car owners.
At present, electric car drivers in Norway get free parking and can roll onto ferries for free. They also have access to special traffic lanes, and don’t pay Norway’s eye-popping tolls. They also don’t pay registration fees or road taxes.
“With each year, the number of places you are allowed to drive with an internal combustion engine are falling,” said Bøhmer. ”Owning a regular car in Norway is becoming more and more expensive because you still have to pay all the taxes and have to pay for gas, repair and so on.”
He suggested such a turn of events could come to pass in Russia as well.
”Bellona has an optimistic outlook on this,” he said. ”The first charge station in Murmansk, which we donated to the city, is a symbol that all things are possible. Now, we are planning on a ’charging corridor,’ installing stations along the road to the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes, which will assure e-car owners that they won’t run out of charge there.”
He added that the memorandum of cooperation would help make that a reality.