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Estonia has emerged as a world leader in its support for electric vehicles. ABB is installing a nationwide network of fast chargers aimed at eliminating “range anxiety” among EV drivers.

Electric vehicles have established a solid foothold in the mainstream automotive market in recent years, but despite their appeal in fuel economy and environmental impact, drivers have yet to embrace EVs in large numbers. One of the primary challenges is “range anxiety,” or drivers’ fear that they may find themselves stranded with no way to charge their car’s battery.  Currently electric vehicles have a range of 80 – 150 km.

While pilot programs for EV charging are underway in a number of countries, the tiny nation of Estonia is going all-in. The Baltic republic has built a network of fast chargers that will blanket the country. In fact, major roads are equipped with fast charging stations no more than 50 km apart, making it possible to drive anywhere in the country without running out of power.

Small scale electricity generation and ‘smart’ grids increasingly allow households to harness renewable energy. The increasing number of electric vehicles is boosting global demand for charging solutions, including highly developed monitoring systems and software to support the grid. 

While EV owners can charge their cars overnight using a conventional residential power outlet, fast chargers offer drivers the ability to charge their batteries up to 80 percent in just 15-30 minutes. A total of 160 chargers have been installed in over 140 locations along freeways and near shopping centers, petrol stations, parking lots and other likely destinations.

ABB won the contract to build the charging network in 2011, supplied the chargers themselves and provided network operating support services (NOC).  This included the backbone IT architecture providing each web-connected charger with connectivity features such as remote assistance, management and servicing and smart software upgradeability. Estonia’s is the first nationwide charging infrastructure to be professionally supported with connectivity solutions, a crucial component for deploying large scale projects of this kind.

ABB also created a regional competence center to transfer the knowledge and expertise necessary to install and service the chargers between ABB and local engineers. The network went online in the fall of 2012.

Estonia’s Ministry of Social Affairs has also committed to buy 500 Mitsubishi iMiev vehicles, and the government is working to develop incentives to promote private EV ownership as part of its stated commitment to increasing the use of renewable energy in transport by 2020.