Estonians rather optimistic about EV revolution

Electric vehicle charging station in Tallinn.
Electric vehicle charging station in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Ministry of the Environment will introduce incentives for buying an electric car to popularize zero emissions vehicles later this year. Experts believe Estonia is ready for EVs, while attitudes and habits need to change.

Last week saw the entry into force of the EU decision to ban sales of internal combustion engine vehicles starting from 2035. European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said that the decision poses a threat to the auto industry and clearly comes too soon. However, people are rather positively inclined towards the triumph of electric vehicles in Estonia and no longer regard it a privilege of the wealthy.

"These myths have long since been busted as completely ordinary people are buying electric vehicles. And there is a very simple explanation for that. People look at monthly expenses these days. It does not matter how much the vehicle costs, just how much you have to spend on it each month," said Silver Havamaa, head of sales and marketing for a dealership.

The first electric vehicles hit Estonian roads ten years ago, while people still tend to believe that an EV will not get to where it's going. Experts say that both the cars and batteries have reached a point where that is no longer a concern. However, it still takes a long time to manufacture batteries.

"And waiting times are not about to get shorter as the demand for batteries is exploding. The Chinese market needs a lot of the batteries they manufacture. And the future of lithion-ion batteries spells even greater price advance. Everything revolves around making sure new solutions hit the market," Arno Sillar, executive manager of the Estonian Vehicle Dealerships and Services Association (AMTEL), said.

Another problem with more extensive adoption of EVs is where to build the necessary charging infrastructure.

"This is two-pronged. First, you have the question of power and energy in terms of Estonia's capacity to generate it. I believe we have nothing to fear in that regard. The other is the grid's capacity for facilitating chargers in particular locations. The simplest and cheapest option would be to see where existing capacity is greatest and build chargers there," said Ivo Palu, professor of energy at TalTech.

Even though Estonians are quite fond of their cars, hitting climate targets means preferring public transport of ridesharing solutions.

"If we can coordinate movement: public transport, scooters, carpooling etc. then I sincerely hope we will not need massive parking lots complete with charging infrastructure. It will need to happen in some other way ten years from now. I believe that while every building can have a charging station in the future, I really cannot see us running around dragging wires, looking for suitable parking spaces in the snow," Palu said.

Seemingly impeccable EU climate policy still begs the question of just how green producing an electric vehicle really is.

"An electric vehicle sports a considerable environmental footprint – much bigger than an ICE vehicle. If we say that an ICE vehicle weighs this much, we can basically add the weight of batteries to that in terms of EVs – let's say 500 kilograms. All of it needs to be manufactured after being extracted from the earth. Producing an EV requires around 20 tons of soil to be overturned for the necessary materials," Sillat said. Unlike an ICE vehicle, however, once built, an EV starts to offset these effects by emitting no emissions when driven and can make up for its initially larger ecological footprint this way.

American carmaker Tesla has widely advertised how environmentally friendly its vehicles are, while Tesla models also emit carbon emissions, even though the vehicles themselves do not. It is nevertheless the most sold EV in Europe and fourth in Estonia.

"The threshold for owning a Tesla is not too high. Depending on whether one is looking at a new or slightly used vehicle, it ranges from a few tens of thousands to €170,000 for their soon-to-arrive top of the line model. That is perhaps an extreme example, but today's Tesla buyer is yesterday's ICE vehicle customer," Havamaa said.

More and more EVs are showing up on Estonian roads, with Volkswagen announcing that it will phase out ICE vehicle sales in Europe by 2035. Their EV models have established a foothold in the rental EVs scheme.

The most widespread EV makes in Estonia are Nissan, Mitsubishi and Audi. The Ministry of the Environment is set to launch another support campaign to popularize EVs later in the year. While the new instrument will not match the previous EV grant of €5,000 per vehicle, it should come with considerably less red tape.

"We want to simplify the support system. Firstly, by providing that the applicant must already be in possession of the vehicle. This will negate the gold rush of the previous instrument. We also want to do away with the mileage cap as it caused a lot of grumbling last time," said Maris Arro, adviser at the ministry's climate department.

While experts believe that electric vehicles' pros outweigh their disadvantages in the long run, Europe's plan to only sell electric vehicles in 13 years' time nevertheless seems hurried and overly ambitious.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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