By Swann Bigot, for Eurasia Network – August 192017 ; Update : March 20, 2018

presskit-model-3

Tesla Model 3 – Photo credit : Tesla

The global car industry is going through a significant transformation. With progress in lithium-ion batteries technology the price of electric vehicles is declining and cruising range is increasing. Electric cars have lower operating costs than fossil fueled vehicles, even at today’s oil prices and a charging infrastructure is now being put in place in China, the United States, Western Europe and Russia. UK recently joined France and Norway in saying it would ban fossil-fuel car sales by 2040 and air quality in urban areas has become a major health issue for governments and civil society. This context supports the sales of electric vehicles which grew by 51% worldwide between 2016 and 2017, according to a study published on Business Insider.

Among this global transformation, the Russian market is emerging. The sales of new electric cars in the country increased by 28.4% in 2017, released the agency Avtostat, as 1,771 electric vehicles were registered as of January 2018, representing a growth by 92.5% since January 2017.

At first sight, if the number of registered private electric vehicles seems to be low for a country of this size, industrial capacities, available technology, cheap electricity, declining costs and more EV charging points across Russia offer conditions to support the growth of the market. Moreover, the factors preventing this growth (lack of charging points, battery technology and price of electric cars) can be solved by several solutions, explained below. Lastly, an international event such as the coming FIFA World Cup in Russia (from June 14 to July 15) can be an opportunity to boost the national electric vehicle market.

1. How many electric cars in Russia?

According to the agency Avtostat1,771 electric vehicles were registered in Russia as of January 1st, 2018. They were 1,133 in July 2017 and 920 in January 2017. This represents a growth by 92.5% between January 2017 and January 2018.

The Nissan Leaf covers 62.3% of this volume, with 1,103 electric cars registered. Then comes the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, whose sales in Russia started in 2011, with 283 units, holding a share of 16%. The Tesla Model S controls 11% of the market with 194 vehicles. The Tesla Model X has 68 vehicles running on Russian roads. The Russian AvtoVAZ also holds a good place in the market with 93 LADA Ellada. The remaining registered models have lower shares : Renault Twizy – 26 vehicles and BMW i3 – 4 vehicles.

To grow further, the electric car market in Russia need more charging stations in cities and across highway service stations.

2. Russian charging infrastructure is expanding

A large electric car market covering a vast territory such as Russia needs a large and efficient network of EV charging points. That’s why the Russian power company Rosseti has been developing and implementing a national program for charging infrastructure since 2012.

There were 34 charging stations in activity in Moscow in January 2017 while Saint Petersburg had around 20 ones in May 2017. Cities such as Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, Sochi and Krasnodar have similar equipment.

In July 2017, Maksim Liksutov, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow, told journalists of the press agency TASS that there are currently 80 charging points for electric cars in Moscow and that municipal authorities intend to increase this number up to 200 charging stations.

PJSC Rosseti, MOESK and Mosenergo are the main companies engaged in the charging infrastructure of the Russian capital.

Five EV charging stations opened in Samara last November and three others will be installed in the coming months. Drivers can refuel their vehicles free of charges using a registered card and the charging time is up to four hours. Infrastructure is located in new residential areas as well as near a business center and a hotel. The sixth largest city of Russia with 1.17 million of inhabitants in 2017 officially takes part in the federal development program of PJSC Rosseti.

Rosseti is building a network of EV charging stations that will link Kaliningrad on the Baltics to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, reported in July 2017 the national newspaper Izvestiya. The power company is implementing the Russian program of development of charging infrastructure, implying the installation, operation and maintenance of a federal network of charging points for electric vehicles in 77 subjects of the Russian Federation.

Equipment will be installed in major Russian cities and on federal highways across the territory in order to support the growth of the electric car market.

Read also: World’s biggest bus maker tests electric bus in Moscow

The Russian power company is experienced in this sector since it already operates more than 130 charging stations for electric vehicles in Moscow and its region, Saint-Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Sochi, Ekaterinburg, Yaroslavl and on the island Valaam. Thanks to this federal program, the whole network operated by Rosseti can reach 190 charging stations by December 2017 and even 1,000 charging stations by the end of 2018, according to news agency TASS.  

More charging points will ease the life of drivers of electric vehicles. Best places to install equipment are residential areas, parking of work places and business centers, shopping malls, major roads and highways as well as airports.

Following this movement, the state corporation Rostec would be ready to manufacture up to one thousand electric charging stations each month, revealed Izvestiya.

Moreover, in the framework of a pilot project with Rostec, federal highways “Don” and “Kavkaz” in Southern Russia will be equipped with charging points. A first supply of 12 charging stations is expected before December 2017. In addition, charging stations could also appear in Samara, Krasnoyarsk, Perm and other cities.

This expansion of the national network of EV charging stations appears possible thanks to the availability of local technology and skills.

3. Available technology

Equipment that will be installed by Rosseti is manufactured by the Ryazan State Instrument-making Enterprise (GRPZ, part of the state corporation Rostec). This company has been producing EV charging stations “Fora-AC” (charge in several hours) since 2016 and new stations “Fora-DC” that can charge an electric car in 30 minutes have been launched this year.

The manufacture capacity of the Ryazanskyi State Instrument-making Enterprise has even been upgraded to produce up to one thousand charging stations every month.

Furthermore, ultrafast charging stations standardized for various Russian makers of electric buses are currently being developed. Indeed, the manufacture plant Kaskad based in Krasnodar (part of the holding RosElectronics, owned by the state corporation Rostec) has been manufacturing since September EV charging stations “Micro Molniya” with a capacity of 50 kWt which allows to charge 80% of batteries in 30 minutes.

4. Batteries, cold weather and solutions

Some says that the growth of electric car market in Russia would be prevented by the cold climate which leads to a faster discharge of the batteries and a reduced cruising range. Indeed, researchers say that freezing weather can reduce cruising range on one charge by 40%. Lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to temperature, as internal phenomena during their operation cause thermal fluctuations. Besides, much energy is used to heat the car during harsh winter, reducing further the cruising range.

However, in an article published by the-village.ru, the Director of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, interviewed as owner of a Tesla Model S, has not reported significant problems during harsh winter. Even if the cruising range decreases, the Director said that batteries continue to work enough to drive inside city and pick up family and friends.

Another owner of a Think City even explained how he has used his Norwegian electric car without problems after that the vehicle has been parked one night outside with freezing weather (-20°C). Cruising range dropped by 40% but the car could run.

Moreover, the owner of a i-MiEV bought in 2014 said that he uses his electric car in Moscow under all weather conditions. When temperature drops to minus 20° C, he parks the car in his garage. He added that a full charge of his car only costs 80 rubles (1.35 USD) even if he charges at home through a power outlet.

Finally, a car dealer told about his experience with his Nissan Leaf imported from Japan in July 2016. He reported that he run 150 kilometers every day with his electric car without problems and freezing weather does not prevent the vehicle to run.

However, experts don’t recommend using regularly electric cars under harsh freezing weather, since it deteriorates lithium-ion batteries.

Nevertheless, recent progress in lithium-ion technology can bring solutions regarding the climate constraints. Indeed, researchers of a Rice University laboratory in Texas have just published an article in the scientific journal Nature Energy that analyzes progress in lithium-ion technology and suggests how to make the batteries more adaptable for challenging climate conditions. As the review shows, the choice of components of batteries determines their performance and safety at both low (<20 °C) and high (>60 °C) temperatures. The article examines recent research that considers thermal tolerance of lithium-ion batteries from a materials perspective, spanning a wide temperature spectrum (−60 °C to 150 °C).

Researchers built a map of materials in lithium-ion batteries and detailed their typical energy densities and temperature ranges for each component, reported the science news platform Techxplore.com.

Therefore, the possibilities offered by progress in cell components could extend the environmental frontiers of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Cold weather in Russia or in countries such as Canada, Finland, Sweden and Norway would not be a constraint anymore in coming years. Now, we know that electric vehicles can run under cold climate.

Read also: Electric cars: China’s battle for the battery market

Furthermore, solutions with efficient cell components will be developed and implemented while the cost of the technology will decrease over the years thanks to technological progress and mass investments in manufacture.

Indeed, lithium-ion batteries currently account for about half the cost of electric vehicles and their prices will fall by about 77 percent between 2016 and 2030 according to a research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In addition, keeping electric cars in heated garage such as underground parking can limit the exposure of batteries to harsh winter. In order to keep the zero emissions nature of this kind of transport, renewable energy sources should be used to provide enough heat. Such infrastructure could be developed in residential, working and shopping areas and even on major roads, highways and in airports.

Last but not least, progress in the graphene supercapacitors technology opens new opportunities for electric vehicles in the coming years. Indeed, the great characteristics of graphene enable scientists and engineers to build batteries which charge in few minutes, a greater cruising range and a longer life cycle than current lithium-ion batteries. Therefore, the graphene technology is a potential game-changer for the electric car industry.

The electric car market in Russia can benefit from these innovations in battery technology and charging infrastructure development. But public authorities have also a role to play in the growth of the market.

5. State support towards electric cars

Free parking in cities

The Moscow authorities decided in 2016 to offer free parking in the center of the city to the owners of electric vehicles. For those who go to work by car every day, this measure can be a good incentive to buy an electric one. Indeed, annual subscription for daily parking in the center of Moscow is expensive. Saving money and gaining comfort are good reasons to make drivers think about an electric car.

Moreover, exclusive parking places for drivers of electric vehicles will soon appear in the Russian capital, reported the Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov in July. Legislation will be adopted so that only electric vehicles can park next to charging stations.

In addition, the administration of Saint Petersburg decided in November 2016 that registered electric vehicles can park free of charges in the central district of the city. Individuals and legal entities can benefit from this policy.

Read also: Russian electric bus successfully tested in Saint Petersburg

The Russian Deputy Minister of Transport Nikolay Asaul said in an interview with TASS that the Ministry does not plan to prepare new legislation on free parking for hybrid and electric vehicles in Russian cities, but expects the regional authorities to take appropriate decisions.

Furthermore, the Russian truck manufacturer KamAZ sent recommendations to the regional authorities in this sense, asking them to adopt free parking programs for electric and hybrid vehicles.

No customs duties

The Russian government cancelled customs duties in July 2016 for imported electric cars until September 2017. The rate for electric trucks up to five tons was reduced from 15% to 5%.

This was a strategic measure since the most popular electric cars in Russia are imported (Nissan Leaf, i-MiEV, Tesla). The decision to extend the free-tax regime ended in January 2016 was delayed by negotiations between the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union.

No more tax on electric cars?

Reducing the cost of the electric car, a zero rate transport tax would significantly increase demand. In this idea, the Russian truck manufacturer KamAZ recommended the regional authorities to adopt a zero rate transport tax for electric and hybrid vehicles, reported the press agency TASS.

The federal authorities support the proposal. Indeed, the Russian Deputy Minister of Transport Nikolay Asaul told journalists on August 3rd that the idea of a zero tax on electric and hybrid vehicles is under discussion.

Few days later, the Minister of Transport Maxim Sokolov announced on the TV channel Russia 24 that a zero tax rate on electric vehicles is necessary in order to stimulate the growth of the market.

Lower or no tax on imported electric vehicles creates opportunities to foreign car manufacturers, interested in working with Russian business partners.

6. Foreign investors

Electric car Nissan Leaf will be sold in Russia

As a world leader in electric vehicles, Nissan studies the market conditions and the infrastructure development in Russia, with the ambition of starting the sales of the Nissan Leaf in the country. So far, this car was purchased abroad and imported. The recent announcements regarding charging infrastructure development could have made the Japanese car maker think about official sales in Russia.

The new Nissan Leaf

The new Nissan Leaf, with a claimed 235-mile range – Photo credit : Nissan

Indeed, two recent press articles revealed that Nissan would plan to directly sell in Russia electric cars Nissan Leaf and electric vans e-NV200. The decision would be taken in the coming months and the sales may start in 2019 or in 2020.

French Renault involved in Russian electric car market

An agreement on the joint development of electric vehicles in the Krasnodar krai was signed by the Deputy Governor Andrey Alekseyenko, the General Director of Renault Russia Andrey Pankov and the First Deputy General Director of PAO Rosseti Roman Berdnikov during the Russian investment forum in Sochi in February 2017, announced a press release. The French car maker Renault takes part in the development of “electric vehicle green zones” in Sochi, Adler or in the Olympic park.  . Rental and car-sharing services of electric vehicles will be also available.

Renault Twizy Russia

Renault Twizy, French electric car available in Russia – Photo Credit : Renault Russia

7. Low cost of electricity 

Russian owners of electric cars can charge their vehicle for few rubles. One driver living in Saint Petersburg and interviewed by the national weekly Argumenty i Fakty said that he charges his electric car from a usual home outlet from 6 to 8 hours, without spending much money. A full charge is 20 kilowatt hour. In 2017, 1 kW cost 2 rubles at night, so the final price was 40 rubles (0.65 $), while during the day, 1 kW cost 3 rubles and a full charge’s price was 60 rubles (1.04 $). The price to refuel the electric car’s battery is cheaper than daily travels in public transport.

8. Decades to replace all fossil fueled vehicles

Of course, everyone can understand that it takes decades to complete a full transition of the car market towards electric vehicles. However, it is better when statesmen and researchers say it while transition programs are implemented.

Thus, the Minister of Transport Maxim Sokolov announced on August 11 that a gradual transition towards electric vehicles will be done in the coming decade in Russia. Maxim Sokolov also stressed that a larger charging infrastructure as well as financial incentives are needed to stimulate purchases of electric cars.

The Minister concluded: “A pilot project is currently implemented in Moscow. Once completed, we will take measures in other Russia’s cities.”

Semyon Shkarupo, a postgraduate student from the Tomsk State University who works in the development of electric transport, also considers that it will take years, or even decades, to completely replace petrol cars by electric vehicles in Russian cities, as reported the press agency TASS.

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© Copyright 2017 – S. Bigot 

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