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E-car charging stations: future market for energy firms

Electric cars are not expected to become common on the streets anytime soon, but some firms are quite certain that the future lies in this direction.

They are small. They cannot go faster than about 80 km/h. They need a refill after just a few hours on the road. And then, getting them back on the road again can take up to eight hours at a time.

From this description, electric cars might seem like a huge step back in the development of mobility compared to petrol-guzzling SUVs. Yet at the opening of Hungary’s first public electric vehicle recharging station in the garage of the Hotel Kempinski Corvinus Budapest, the excitement was palpable.

At the station, seven cars can be charged simultaneously. The fastest charger only takes an hour and a half for a complete top-up of an electric car battery. Also, it will be free until the end of next year, Emile Bootsma, the general manager of the hotel promises. Of course, there will probably not be a lot of traffic as there are currently very few electric vehicles in Hungary.

However, the excitement was probably due to the fact that many see a huge potential in the technology in the future. As fuel prices rise, alternative propulsion becomes more attractive. Especially since running an electric car is not particularly expensive: a kilometer costs about HUF 10, János Winkler, board member of E.ON Hungária Zrt calculates. A charging station can be installed by E.ON for less than HUF 200,000 and the firm is contemplating the introduction of an e-vehicle tariff using electricity in off-peak periods.

As Konrad Kreuzer, head of E.ON Hungária Zrt told the BBJ, the firm does not expect significant revenues from supplying power for the recharging of electric vehicles in the near future. “It is difficult to see what will happen, but we believe in e-mobility very much,” he said.

One of the largest obstacles to e-mobility is the price of the cars: the cheapest of the half-dozen available models costs around HUF 8 million, for which you could, at a pinch, buy up to four small gasoline-fuelled cars. Of course, prices would change if mass production allows manufacturing companies to utilize more efficiencies.

Meanwhile the Hungarian cabinet has joined other European governments in proposing the introduction of tax breaks for e-cars. According to Fidesz MP and 5th district mayor Antal Rogán, electric cars would not have to pay the registration tax, vehicle tax, parking fees or fees for changing ownership. (They would still have to pay the company car tax, though.) If a congestion charge is introduced in 2014 as planned, electric vehicles will probably be exempt from that, too, Rogán said.

However, even if the price of the cars falls, there is still another, maybe even larger problem to tackle: electric cars cannot be used in the same way as regular cars. This is partly why E.ON is expecting demand for electric vehicles to be mostly limited to corporations initially. “Interest is already high at large corporations,” Winkler added.