In 2011 Estonia launched an ambitious, nationwide e-mobility program to promote the use of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country. The program involved making available grants for citizens to buy EVs; awareness-raising campaigns; an EV car-sharing project; and providing EVs for public social workers.
However, what was needed to bind these projects and make the program a success was a proper charging infrastructure. So in March 2011, Estonia established ELMO, an innovative countrywide network of quick-chargers – the first of its kind in the world.
Estonia is a small country in north-east Europe with 1.3 million people and an area of 45 227 km2. With an urbanization rate of 70 per cent, more than a third of inhabitants live in city areas. Fifty-three per cent of Estonians travel by car; 23 per cent by public transport; and 23 per cent by foot or bike.
As a part of its national transport development plan, Estonia is committed to increasing the share of renewable energy in the transport sector to 10 per cent of overall consumption – a 9.8 per cent increase compared to 2011. E-mobility has been considered as one possible measure to achieve that goal. The Estonian e-mobility program was launched to increase the share of renewable energy in transportation and reduce CO2 emissions caused by the private transport sector.
The ELMO program was considered a crucial long-term instrument to encourage the wider adoption of EVs in the country. Financed by a CO2 emission trade agreement between the Estonian government and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation under the Kyoto Protocol, the total budget for the nationwide infrastructure development and 5-year maintenance was approximately € 12m.
In order to establish this nationwide charging infrastructure, the government asked financing and program management agency KredEx to procure a turnkey technical solution with a 5-year operational agreement from private providers. In addition, KredEx was responsible for finding and securing locations for chargers and ensuring that electricity-grid companies built sufficient power connections to those locations. All subtasks within the program were procured from private companies.
ELMO was officially launched in mid-summer 2011 and included three main parallel processes to develop locations; grid connections; and turnkey solutions for chargers and an IT system and service set-up. The tender for the turnkey solution was won by a consortium led by multinational power engineering corporation ABB that included software partner NOW! Innovations and service operator G4S.
The ELMO network was officially opened in February 2015 and consists of 165 CHAdeMO-standard quick chargers. It was the first of its kind in the world. Charging points were distributed on all roads with dense traffic; in towns with over 5 000 people; next to frequently visited locations such as petrol stations, cafes, shops and banks; and ports servicing international and local travelers. The distance between each charging station was 40-60km. Currently 100 quick-chargers are in towns – 44 in larger towns; 27 in Tallinn; 10 in Tartu; five in Pärnu and two in Narva . Sixty-five are located near roads. To pay for the charging facility, EV drivers can use the ELMO app on their mobile device, or authorise payments using a radio-frequency identification (RFID) card. In addition, 24/7 phone support is available for ELMO service subscribers.
The quick-charging network has rapidly increased in popularity over the last two years; in February 2013, it was used 1 000 times; in January 2015 that number rose to 11 000 charges a month. The system is being currently used by 1 100 regular drivers, with an average loading time of 20 minutes for each.
 CHAdeMO is an abbreviation of CHArge de Move, and is the trade name of a quick-charging method for battery electric vehicles delivering up to 62.5 kW of high-voltage direct current via a special electrical connector. It is proposed as a global industry standard by an association of the same name.
Challenges, opportunities and transferability
‘Setting up the nationwide infrastructure is a very complex program and needs the alignment of different sub-projects, such as acquiring locations, and developing technical solutions and service. Each and every one of them was a challenge,’ said Jarmo Tuisk, E-mobility director at NOW! Innovations.
As a part of ELMO, an analysis and guideline document was prepared for the program to establish the overall background, vision and strategy for the project. Tuisk said that choosing partners with the right skills and knowledge, and who are willing to co-operate, were keys to success. ‘Of course,’ he adds, ‘excellent project management is also important.’ As, it also appears, is a bit of give-and-take: decisions about where to put the chargers were a compromise between analytics (road-usage) and whether locations met the eligibility criteria and were available.
As the Estonian network was developed in very short space of time - within two years - it forced some shortcuts in the implementation process. For example, choosing a single operator/service-provider model may be problematic in the future as it can turn out to be difficult for other investors to compete with the quite ubiquitous service offers. In the future, the government has to make a decision if and how to open the network for other service providers and/or investors.
Tuisk added: ‘The growth in popularity of the public quick-charging network demonstrates that there is a clear need for accessible, easy-to-use EV infrastructure. It also shows that quick-charging is not only meant for highway charging, but also to solve charging problems within urban areas as majority of chargers are located within cities.’
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