Love or hate Boris Johnson’s government, he had a silver lining: he cared about solving environmental problems, or at least paid lip service to that goal. That wasn’t the case with Liz Truss’ short-lived diet, and it doesn’t appear to be the case with Rishi Sunak’s newly formed successor either. Not only has Sunak (at least at the time of writing) rejected the UN Climate Change Conference COP27, but his government also seems willing to let the UK fall behind by gaining a firm foothold in the electric vehicle revolution.
The Sunak government recently rejected granting additional funding to battery startup Britishvolt. This jeopardizes the £3.8 billion ($4.4 billion) project. Britishvolt was aiming for a total generation capacity of 38 GWh per year by 2030, which would be enough to make the batteries for 300,000 electric vehicles per year. This would only satisfy a fraction of the 1.6-2.6 million cars sold in the UK each year, but it would certainly help make a local industry viable. Britishvolt had already signed memorandums of understanding with Aston Martin and Lotus to supply batteries to both companies.
There have been other signs that the UK is falling behind in the emerging electric vehicle sector. The Britishvolt news came at the same time as electric taxi company LEVC announced job cuts, and poster children’s electric utility vehicle company Arrival shifted production to the United States. In a further blow to British jobs in the electrified future, BMW also announced earlier in October that it would cut UK production of the Mini Electric and move it to China. Unlike the much-vaunted sunny highlands of Brexit, the UK appears to be heading towards a ditch of isolation from a growing electric future.
Sunak’s nonchalance towards sustainable technologies is perhaps unsurprising given reports that he has taken money from fossil fuel companies to fund his campaign to become British Prime Minister. But if the current UK government is serious about focusing on growth, leveling the North and pulling the country out of the economic downturn it currently finds itself in, it needs to change its tune. Renewables are the best path to independence from imported fossil fuels (and Russian influence). The development of recycled materials will be a strong growth industry – one that European automakers like Polestar and BMW are already planning to tap into. If you look at the latest electric vehicle sales figures in Europe and the UK, this type of vehicle will soon dominate the market, making it an ideal hub for manufacturing growth.
Any country that wants to succeed economically over the next few decades must support sustainability, renewable energy and electrification. The reason isn’t just because of climate change, but because it makes solid business sense. The fossil fuel industry is on the verge of decline, and while there will be huge business there for a few more years, it has already peaked. As electric vehicle sales continue to grow, fewer fossil fuels will be needed and the old black gold of petroleum will quickly lose its tarnish.
This is why the UK government really needs to think long and hard before allowing Britishvolt to fail as it appears to be doing now. The UK needs its own battery production capacity, and on an industrial scale. Without it, we will let other countries take control of a rapidly emerging market while we are forced to consume what they produce. It should be borne in mind that the world’s largest supplier of batteries is China. Do we really want to be vulnerable to imports from a country that increasingly shows that it does not have our best interests at heart, when we could have our own local battery industry instead?
UPDATE – Britishvolt has now secured the funding it needs to continue, although the source of the funding has not been revealed, and there is no sign at this time of it being a British government investment.