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Plugging Into an Electrically Chargeable Future

Automotive

Anyone driving an electric car across Hungary is much better off now than they were two years ago: they don’t need to worry about finding charging points as much, and are much more likely to see other electric vehicles on the road. But legislation to clarify the conditions around charging is still missing and, with the higher number of EVs, some new dilemmas have arisen.

Since market-setting regulations were introduced in 2016, no significant changes have been made in the legislation around electromobility. The field has moved ahead regardless, in which the scheme to promote the purchase of electric vehicles and the construction of charging infrastructure by both market players and state-owned entities have had some role.  

However, the market is still awaiting a comprehensive e-mobility law, which would clarify some questions including conditions for charging, whether as a service, or charging at home.  

A government decree on certain state tasks related to the expansion of electromobility in Hungary, introduced at the end of 2017, is an important milestone, Péter Bársony, e-mobility expert of PwC, tells the Budapest Business Journal.  

It entrusted e-Mobi Elektromobilitás Nonprofit Kft. with responsibility for improving interconnectivity in the country. Having installed the 300th charger at the beginning of May, e-Mobi has made a significant contribution to the development of the domestic market, Bársony says.  

Overall, the construction of charging infrastructure is progressing at a good pace: connectivity has improved much, says the expert. A comprehensive registry of public charging points is still missing, although there are a number of interactive maps that help drivers orientate. According to the official statistics, by the end of last year, there were nearly 600 charging stations in the country; market experts now put this figure at more than 750 which equals more than 1,100 charging points (as there is more than one point at each station).

Business Potential

Having recognized the business potential, market players from the field of energy have taken an active role in the expansion of e-mobility. Eon, one of the pioneers, has installed between 20 and 30 charging stations thus far. It aims to expand further: the company recently signed an agreement with hypermarket chain ALDI according to which it will install chargers in the parking lots of ALDI’s 123 outlets (360 charging points in total).

MOL has installed 18 rapid chargers under the NEXT-E program, an EU-project that aims to improve connectivity from the borders of Czech Republic to the Black Sea and the Adria. The network will offer drivers charging points at 252 places, of which MOL will install 100 in the region by the end of this year. A total of 141 charging points will be available at MOL filling stations, 59 of these in Hungary.  

The company will also continue its own charger installation program: Budapest will see two new ones soon.  

ELMŰ-ÉMÁSZ has 65 filling stations, while NKM Mobilitás Kft., a subsidiary of state-owned utilities company Nemzeti Közművek Zrt. (NKM), has installed nearly 60 chargers so far.  

Whether it is profitable to operate chargers at this point is questionable. “MOL was the first in Hungary to charge for electric charging, so we cannot talk about a competitive market environment as yet,” says Róbert Tóth-Fekete, head of e-mobility at the Hungarian oil and gas giant.  

“However, MOL doesn’t enter a field where it sees no business potential.” With the systemic expansion of electric cars, e-mobility will certainly become a profitable business in the coming years, he adds.  

The number of cars with green number plates has also been rising. It is hovering around 10,000; by the end of March, 9,925 cars have been registered according to official statistics (see table). A large proportion of these cars (5,710) are second-hand plug-in hybrids coming from Western Europe.  

Extended Range

There are also many extended range electric vehicles with green plates, which could hardly be considered green. If these are excluded from the total, Hungary has around 7,000 electrically chargeable vehicles (ECVs), Bársony says. Hungary will not achieve its target of 30,000 ECVs by 2020. But, looking at the current pace of electric car growth, it could certainly be achievable within a few years, the expert notes.

That growth may be warmly welcome, but electric cars have created some new dilemmas as well. About two-thirds of electric vehicles in Hungary are used in the capital and in the agglomeration, which means thousands of cars with green number plates are driven, charged and parked in the city for free.  

With the growing of number of cars on the roads in general, this is unsustainable in the long run. So, lawmakers need to rethink incentives linked to green number plates, which will definitely cause some heated debates, e-mobility industry association Jedlik Ányos Klaszter (JÁK) warns.

“It would be important to clarify what we expect from e-mobility,” says Zoltán Vígh, managing director of JÁK. “Are we aiming to promote the new top models of the automotive industry or to spread innovative climate protection technology?”

With a price tag usually over HUF 10 million, new electric cars are still considered a luxury for most. Their charging, especially at home, which accounts for 70-80% of all charging in Western Europe, is also a question under debate.

Today, electric car owners in Hungary charge their vehicles at home with electricity from universal service, that is, at a supported price. This may change with the new legislation which is likely to arrive this fall according to market insiders. 

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