Does the UK face a ‘gigafactory gap’?

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Is the UK facing a ‘gigafactory gap’ and, if so, what impact will that have on the nation’s electric car industry?

According to Parliament’s business committee the UK government needs to offer more help to the sector to avoid these outcomes and has warned that the UK has only a “limited window in the next three years to attract further investment into this sector.”

Otherwise, the UK faces a gradual decline in its car industry and the loss of hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, according to the committee.

In contrast to countries like China, where there has been extensive support for the battery car sector to date the UK has only has one factory producing batteries at “giga” scale, and that’s a site run by the Chinese-owned AESC in Sunderland that supplies Nissan.

Another couple of factories are planned. The first is the AESC factory in Sunderland that will be capable of producing up to 38GWh. The second is Tata’s planned 40GWh factory in Somerset.

Despite these investments the UK will remain well short of the 100GWh mark by 2030 and 200GWh by 2040, which the Faraday Institution has claimed is required to prevent the automotive industry from shrinking.

The report from MP’s calls on the government to increase its support of domestic producers of crucial parts and materials that go into batteries and should look to prevent over reliance on imports from China, which dominates the global battery supply chain.

With increasing sales of electric vehicles and the winding down of production of traditional petrol and diesel models many countries are struggling to manage and support this transition. The failure of UK policy in this area could result in the automotive industry simply relocating to Europe or even the US, the committee warns.

While the government is preparing to publish an advanced manufacturing plan and a battery strategy the UK continues to lag its rivals who are offering a combination of direct subsidies, help with lower energy costs, and the provision trained workers.

The committee said that while the UK would likely be dependent on imports of raw materials, there were “strategic benefits” to be gained from supporting a “midstream” industry able to refine lithium and produce the anodes and cathodes within battery cells.

The UK government needs to act and should pull together a policy that not only addresses battery capacity – or the lack of it – but should also be looking to help with energy costs, encourage the development and roll out of an adequate charging infrastructure as well as support confidence among consumers in EV technology.

The UK government can point to investment by Tata, Nissan and AESC, but the committee makes a good point when it warns that this is not nearly enough and that, in a nutshell, is the problem with UK policy.

Whether supporting the transition to electric vehicles or investing in quantum technology, the government continually fails to invest the money needed. In too many cases it is simply scratching the surface as it seeks to build viable, long-term industries here in the UK.