By Swann Bigot, for Eurasia Network – August 19th, 2017

electric-charge

EV charging point – Source : pixabay

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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. 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 concern.

Among this global transformation, the Russian electric car market is emerging. If the number of registered private electric vehicles remains low for a country of this size, industrial capacities, available technology, foreign investment, declining costs and progressive development of charging infrastructure across the country offer conditions to a potential growth of this market. Moreover, the factors that prevent this growth (lack of charging infrastructure, battery technology and price of electric cars) can be solved by several solutions. 

  1. How many electric cars in Russia?

According to Avtostat, 920 electric cars were registered in Russia in January 2017.

The leader in the Russian market is the Japanese car maker Nissan with the Nissan Leaf (37% of volume with 340 vehicles). Then comes Mitsubishi with its electric car i-MiEV, whose sales in Russia started in 2011 (28.6% of volume with 263 vehicles). Tesla controls 19.2% of the market with 177 Tesla Model S. The Russian AvtoVAZ is also in the market with 93 LADA Ellada. The remaining registered models (Renault Twizy, Tesla Model X and BMW i3) did not exceed 20 vehicles each as of January, reported Avtostat.

Around 37 % of all electric vehicles in Russia are registered in Moscow and its suburbs (339 electric cars). The Primorsky krai on the Pacific coast has 136 electric cars, the Samara Oblast – 51 vehicles, Krasnodar krai – 50, Saint Petersburg – 45, Khabarovsk krai – 45, Stavropol 23 and Tatarstan 14, respectively. The remaining Russian regions have less than 10 registered electric cars.

From January until May, 11 Tesla Model X, 4 Tesla Model S, 3 Renault Twizy and 3 Nissan Leaf were purchased in Moscow, the Moscow region, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, in Khabarovsk and the Primorsky krai, reported Avtostat.

The growth of the electric car market in Russia remains slow since there are not enough charging stations. However, public authorities and power companies are installing new equipment in major Russian cities and on main roads and highways. Foreign investors even joined the movement.

  1. 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.

Besides, the Nissan operates a manufacture plant in Saint Petersburg whose production capacities are going to be increased with recruitment for 450 new jobs. This was announced to the Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 10th by the Nissan executives during the International Industrial Fair Innoprom held in Yekaterinburg.

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 last February, 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. In addition, a network of charging stations is developed by local power companies.

  1. Russian charging infrastructure is expanding

A large electric car market needs a large charging stations network. 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 last January while Saint Petersburg had around 20 ones last May. Cities such as Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, Sochi and Krasnodar have similar equipment.

Last July, Maksim Liksutov, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow, told journalists of the news 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.

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

In this context, Rosseti will install a new network of charging stations that will link Kaliningrad on the Baltics to Vladivostok in the Far East, reported last month the 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 stations for electric vehicles in 77 subjects of the Russian Federation.

Rosseti intends to become the first federal operator of charging stations for electric vehicles and even for drones in the future. 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 stations will stimulate the sales of electric cars, making easier for drivers to charge the lithium-ion batteries anywhere. 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.

Besides, 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.

The expansion of the national network of EV charging stations will be also strengthened thanks to the availability of local technology and skills.

  1. Available technology

Equipment that will be installed by the power company 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 producing since September charging stations “Micro Molniya” with a capacity of 50 kWt which allows to charge 80% of batteries in 30 minutes.

  1. 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.

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 is reduced, 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 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.

  1. State support towards electric cars

Free parking in cities

The Moscow authorities last year offered 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.

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 idea. 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.

  1. 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 11th 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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