Raul Potisepp is the CEO and founder of Eleport, a company developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Thanks to Eleport, whose goal is to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources, it will soon be possible to drive from Tallinn to Berlin in an electric car using only Eleport chargers, and in the future, venture even farther.
Raul is participating in a panel discussion at the Impact Day festival, where the future of mobility is being discussed. We talked about how Eleport’s mission is progressing, what challenges it has faced in fulfilling its mission, and how people will move around in the future.
How is Eleport doing today?
Eleport is doing quite well. Our mission is to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources to prevent dangerous climate changes. We achieve this through an electric vehicle charging network that provides only renewable electricity.
Last year was a breakthrough for us – we expanded to Lithuania and Poland. Our ambition is for Eleport’s chargers to enable a drive from Tallinn to Berlin. The plan is progressing nicely; we already have the first few chargers open in Poland, and within a couple of months, about a hundred more should be added. Electric vehicle sales numbers are on a growing trend both in Estonia and elsewhere.
How did you come up with the idea to start the company in 2016, when environmental health wasn’t as prominent as it is today?
I discovered back then that electric cars weren’t as expensive as they were talked about, at least not used cars. I had assumed they would cost over 30,000 euros, but lightly used electric cars were around 17,000 to 20,000 euros at that time. Both in Estonia and elsewhere, governments supported the purchase of electric cars, allowing people to later sell their cars at more favorable prices.
We initially started renting electric cars to taxi drivers. The Estonian government subsidized charging infrastructure at the time, with a fixed price of 1.20 euros for 60 minutes of charging. Each battery could be fully charged within that time frame, making it incredibly inexpensive. The more they drove, the greater the benefit. This was, and still is, the cheapest way to drive a car, both for taxi drivers and in general. Providing taxi services this way made them more environmentally friendly. Taxis primarily operate within cities, and if all taxis were to be electric, city air would undoubtedly be cleaner, leading to fewer respiratory diseases.
So, the combination of affordable electric cars, government support, and the opportunity to offer environmentally friendly taxi services inspired the idea of the company.
What have been the main challenges in fulfilling the company’s mission?
One significant challenge has been the shifting public perception and attitudes towards electric cars, both in the general public and within our own circles. When we started in 2016, most people were highly skeptical and believed that electric cars were those small blue vehicles used by social workers, capable of traveling a maximum of 50 km. However, in recent years, and particularly this year, people’s viewpoints have started to change.
Another challenge has been our desire to fill the Baltic states and Poland with charging stations, but our business model allows us to install them only at commercial properties, near supermarkets or shopping centers. Property owners have generally been cautious, and this has partly slowed down the infrastructure expansion for us and our competitors. On the positive side, there are exemplary real estate funds and owners who see the opportunity to attract more people to their buildings through this.
Funding has also been a challenge for Eleport over the past years. By the end of last year, we secured strong investors, Gren and Bolt, which has resolved this issue.
What does the future of electric cars look like in the coming decades?
The European Union has set a goal that by 2035 by which new vehicles with internal combustion engines should no longer be sold. I believe this sends a strong signal to both car manufacturers and consumers. Supply chain difficulties may arise due to shortages of various metals or minerals needed for car production. Short-term challenges could emerge where battery prices don’t drop as projected, thus not leading to the anticipated decrease in electric car prices in general. However, in the long term, I predict that the transition to electric cars will happen faster than we think.
The Nordic countries have been exemplary in the use and sale of electric cars. In Norway, many car dealerships have already stated that it’s no longer worth selling gasoline or diesel cars; they only sell electric cars. Europe and China are leading this trend, and the USA and other markets are catching up. It’s important to understand that electric cars are only part of the solution. To maximize their impact, electricity production needs to shift to renewable sources on a large scale. It doesn’t need to be 100%, but the share of renewable energy should be at least 70-80%.
Furthermore, I’m concerned about personal car ownership. While transitioning from internal combustion engine cars to electric cars and continuing the trend of car ownership would be better for society, the planet, and humanity, it might not be the ultimate solution. The amount of resources we need to mine to fully transition to electric cars, including buses, trucks, ferries, etc. in the future, is a heavy burden on our planet. The entire transportation system needs to change, and society as a whole needs a shift in mindset. We need to move away from personal cars through the promotion of alternatives. Shared cars are already a step forward. For instance, Bolt has stated that one Bolt Drive could potentially replace 3-5 personal cars on the road. Developing bike lanes and electric scooters infrastructure is also crucial, so people don’t have to travel around with heavy vehicles.
It’s important to note that car manufacturers today are producing large and heavy electric vehicles with massive batteries. Essentially, a car with a 100-kilowatt-hour battery could theoretically be replaced by two smaller cars with 50-kilowatt-hour batteries. The current trend in the automotive industry, where large SUVs have become the ideal, is also concerning. Rather, there should be a push for smaller cars with a smaller footprint at the national level.
The transition is certainly happening, and it’s interesting to note that Chinese car manufacturers are entering European markets, some of which are already present. In markets where electric cars are sold more, they are often already in the top ten. With the arrival of electric cars, it’s crucial to understand their environmental impact and how to minimize it. The question arises: Does everyone really need to own cars, or are there better alternatives? Such as car-sharing, public transportation, and active mobility.
Interviewer: Kerttu Kongas