Ten years ago, Estonia was the leading pioneer of electric vehicles (EV) in the world. Even before the mainstream media started to write about EV mass adoption and the need to build infrastructure to support the cars, the Estonian government decided that EV’s were here for good. In 2013, Estonia became the first country in the world to build a countrywide EV charging network.
As private companies were not so keen on EV’s back then, the network was state-owned until 2018. Charging points were distributed on all major roads, in towns, next to petrol stations, cafes, shops, banks and ports. In total, there were 165 chargers with about 40-60 km of distance in between them.
Over the years, the popularity of EV’s has grown. By now, there are over 10 companies that operate EV charging networks in Estonia with the total of chargers being well over the thousands. The three biggest operators – Enefit VOLT, Eleport and Alexela have 560 charging points, with the chargers themselves exceeding thousands all over rural and city areas in Estonia. Now with the help of private companies, Estonia is driving from being the world’s first countrywide EV charging network towards being the smartest and fastest EV charging network.
Enefit VOLT was the lucky one that managed to win the auction after which the state sold off their fondly named ELMO charging network. In the conditions of the auction it was stated that the winner needs to offer public EV charging for the foreseeable future and update the network with the newest standards and charging speeds available.
It needs to be noted that when ELMO was built, the chargers used the CHAdeMO charging standard which was made popular by Japanese car brands like Nissan and Mitsubishi or simply put it used the Japanese standard. Back then, the European car makers had not started to mass produce EV’s and had yet to agree upon a European charging standard. With the help of the European Union, the standard was finally agreed upon around the time that ELMO was sold off. Type2 for low speed and CCS for fast charging.
Enefit VOLT has since replaced many of the chargers with a CCS capable charger with a minimum speed of 47 kW. The company has promised not to turn a blind eye to Nissan and Mitsubishi owners and has agreed to keep enough CHAdeMO chargers up and running so a road-trip around Estonia would still be possible.
Since those manufacturers themselves stopped using CHAdeMO and have followed the example of their European counterparts by moving on to CCS, it’s just a matter of time until the Japanese standard is phased out in Europe. According to Enefit VOLT’s press representative Mattias Kaiv, by the end of 2023 they will have 205 public charging points.
From Estonia to all over CEE
Eleport was the first privately owned company that decided to start building a countrywide EV charging network in 2016. And they have been successful with a projected 175 chargers available by the end of 2023. While many European EV owners are accustomed to using Ionity, Shell, Tesla, Fastned and others, they need to keep an eye on the developments of Eleport as they have ventured out of their home market of Estonia.
With the help of an investment from the mobility giant Bolt, Skype co-founders investment fund Ambient Sound Investments and others, the company has already opened charging locations in Latvia and Lithuania. Eleport will also open their first chargers in Poland by this year. Eleport’s CEO Raul Potisepp plans and dreams big. Over the next few years, they are planning to invest 100 million euros to expand the network to Central and Eastern Europe.
“Eleport now plans to become the largest EV charging network in the CEE region, with more than 100,000 EV charging stations by the year 2030,” Potisepp promised.
Future proof network
Energy giant Alexela is the first petrol station operator to see a future in EV’s. They started to rapidly modernise their stations by adding EV charging points in the spring of 2020. What sets Alexela apart from others is future proofing.
From their very first charger, they have always offered the fastest charging speeds possible. This summer, Alexela was the first company to open a 400 kW charger in Estonia. Let it be said that the most common EV’s are capable of receiving a maximum of 150 kW charge at the moment. The priciest versions of Porsche’s and Tesla’s and some heavy trucks can manage a 270 kW charge for some time.
Alexela’s head of e-mobility Alan Vaht said that they are so far ahead of the market development that these chargers should not have any troubles in the next 10 years in terms of new electric vehicles entering the market. Alexela’s internationally known competitors, Circle K and Neste, have opened their charging points in Estonia now as well.
While the three EV charging network operators were keen on publishing how many charging points they have, all of them noted that charging points and chargers are not equal numbers. In total, they have 940 charging points but considering that many of the locations have at least two chargers and there are over ten companies in total offering either slow or fast speed charging in Estonia the total number is well over many thousands.
Power to the masses
Electricity is a thing that we all use, but not many of us truly know the workings of the electrical system. VOOL is a startup that is working towards helping to get the maximum out of your power connection. Specifically, they are focusing on the popular three-phase connection used in most European households.
As the name suggests, a three-phase connection means there are three wires connecting your apartment or house to the electrical grid. To get the most out of a three-phase connection, the household needs to be properly connected to it. To put it plainly – your microwave, TV, washer and other appliances need to be evenly spread throughout the breaker box.
In reality, most of Europe is not taking full advantage of the three-phase connection, which results in overloaded systems even though the grid and breaker box could actually manage the load it is under.
To fix this problem, VOOL has created a software-based solution that helps to utilise the connection properly. In simpler terms – VOOL’s solution helps to balance out the load so the end user can use all of their electrical appliances without the need to worry whether their circuit box breaker will be activated or not.
Just like in commercials – it doesn’t end there. VOOL also produces an EV charger that, besides utilising the previously mentioned effective use of a three-phase connection, also lets the customer earn money with it. If the owner chooses, they can let other EV owners charge their cars also. The price for it can be set from a companion app.
According to the CEO Juhan Härm, most of their client base is located in the Baltics and Nordics but some of them have been from the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.
“Although our specialty lies in automatic phase switching and multi-level dynamic load control, we can also support other bottlenecks in electric car charging. Our software supports customers even if they have EV charging hardware from another manufacturer,” the CEO described.
VOOL’s success can be measured in numbers. In September, they announced another funding round of 3 million EUR that they closed which brings their total investment amount to 7.62 million EUR. Undoubtedly, their most famous investor is the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid (2016-2021). Commenting on her investment, President Kaljulaid said to “Life in Estonia” that her investment into VOOL has been mutually beneficial because it helps her to navigate in the GreenTech world. “VOOL is an interesting company. The technical and physics side of it is so simple that you wonder how it hasn’t been done before. But that’s exactly why they have great potential. That’s why I invested in them,” she said.