Can the UK lead the world in the development and production of batteries for electric cars?
This is the stated aim of the government’s support programme for the battery sector. Yet, in the light of the current state of the UK battery sector and the strength of international competition, world leadership in car batteries is almost certainly unattainable. If the demand for electric cars grows as fast as many forecasters expect, investment in battery production should be financed by the private sector, argues Sir Geoffrey Owen, Policy Exchange’s Head of Industrial Policy and a former editor of the Financial Times, in a new paper Batteries for electric cars: a case study in industrial strategy.
The Faraday Challenge has made £246 million of taxpayers’ money available to establish and maintain a leading position for the UK in battery technology. Given the increasing importance of energy storage, for the electricity grid as well as for cars, the government is right to step up state funding for academic research in this area, but the case for government support at the commercialisation stage is much less clear. There are also dangers in a single national programme which may be skewed in the direction of supporting existing technologies, rather than pushing out the technological frontier.