Over the course of this decade, electric vehicles look set to overtake petrol and diesel in terms of new vehicle sales. At least, this is the intention under the government’s Ten Point Plan - announced at the back end of 2020. But, with the UK “lagging behind” in battery production, is this (a) realistic, and (b) sustainable?
As it stands, the vast majority of batteries used in UK electric vehicle manufacturing are sourced from China. The UK Government has recognised that this is untenable in the long run and creates a reliance on external factors in meeting its hefty decarbonisation agenda.
On top of this, there’s a real pressure for change exerted by the Brexit deal. The deal contains a stipulation that at least 50% of EV batteries need to be made up of UK or EU sourced materials by 2023. Failure to meet that criteria would mean the imposition of tariffs on vehicles exported from the UK to the EU. Given that a whopping 51% of all UK-built cars do end up getting exported to the EU (based on last year’s figures), the imposition of tariffs could be crippling for UK manufacturing.
With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that the advancement of a UK-based battery production industry has slid up the governmental agenda. The government is currently hearing multiple proposals from private companies looking to set up their own ‘Gigafactory’ in the UK. The first of these proposals, by a company called ‘Britishvolt’, was approved at the end of last year.
Britishvolt’s proposal included a headline £2.6bn investment into a Gigafactory site in Northumberland – representing one of the largest single industry investments in UK history. No doubt, more will follow. Britishvolt is looking to start construction as early as this Summer and battery production expected to start by the end of 2023.
Whilst an undoubted step in the right direction, there’s a long and winding road to creating a sustainable battery manufacturing industry (basically from scratch) in the UK. With the EU currently boasting a total of 16 Gigafactories (either already under construction or in the advanced planning stages), the government and the market might just have to throw the kitchen sink at it for the UK to remain competitive.
UK regions compete to host 'gigafactory' for electric car batteries