Britishvolt and the UK’s EV investment journey

By Richard Forrest
Richard Forrest, Global Sustainability leader at Kearney and Chairman of electric-vehicle innovator EV8 Technologies, reflects on the UK EV market

Electric vehicle adoption has increased rapidly in the last year with more than 305,000 new vehicles being registered. Yet the true winners of future energy mobility are yet to be decided.

One such competitor is Britishvolt, which recently received a £100mn investment from the UK Government to develop a car battery ‘gigafactory’ in Northumberland. But is the move enough to position the country as a key global competitor?

Localising supply chains in the EV battery market

COVID-19, supply chain bottlenecks and semiconductor and raw material shortages have squeezed car manufacturers’ capacity to build and deliver new vehicles. A domestic gigafactory on UK soil would address challenges like these by shortening supply chains, with local manufacturing of EV batteries creating a more resilient industry. It could also reduce the chance of consumers turning to shorter-lived, second-hand electric vehicles in a bid to avoid current extended waiting times.

Local production and innovation also provide the chance for Britain to stand on the frontline to solve the challenge of reducing the cost of electric vehicles, by driving battery development, greater energy density and lower costs, in line with the UK’s 2040 zero-emission vehicle target set at COP26. 

As we evolve further from the internal combustion engine, the supply of lithium-ion batteries will become ever more important, but the role of these batteries isn’t just limited to powering EVs. 

Our increasing share of renewables in the UK requires a deep transformation in the way we generate, transmit and store energy. This is vital if we are to manage the issues of intermittency and local load on power networks. Batteries have a significant role to play in this landscape, from supporting the transition and managing this volatility for distribution network operators, to enabling consumers to benefit from local electricity generation and vehicle to grid energy management in their area. 

Having the EV and battery industry turn to local models with the likes of the Britishvolt investment is a great first step. 

A longer journey towards EV and battery development

The previous lack of local production and innovation, and the British EV market still being in its infancy, means it’s easy to assume that the UK government’s injection of capital into Britishvolt is just a small play in a huge market. Established players such as China are already capitalising on homegrown battery technology by investing overseas, including a €600m factory due to be completed in Bitterfeld, Germany in 2022. 

However, we must recognise that the £100mn investment into the British EV market is the first step on a long, arduous journey. To truly facilitate the transition to net-zero transport emissions, the EV market will require the efforts of multiple nations and companies, and the UK’s investment will help fuel our country’s best-in-breed in this sector.

Richard Forrest is Global Sustainability leader at consultancy partnership Kearney and Chairman of electric-vehicle innovator EV8 Technologies

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