Lars Carlstrom, founder and CEO of Italvolt, highlights the importance of EU Green Week and why the automotive industry must acknowledge that the location of gigafactories have a bearing on the wider ecosystem
From 31st May to 4th June, there is a push within the European Union to explore possibilities to make zero pollution a reality. All this is part of the EU’s Green Week and comes ahead of the G7 Summit in early June, taking place in Cornwall in which climate is likely to be high on the agenda.
All this comes at a time when in the past month, the UK energy regulator, Ofgem has approved a £300m investment to triple the number of electric vehicle (EV) charge points around the country. It seems then, to be a perfect opportunity to discuss EVs and the importance of surround infrastructure that’s needed to power them, such as gigafactories.
The growing importance of gigafactories
Over the next few years, the number of gigafactories across Europe will grow, demonstrating their importance in the ecosystem. There are already more than 20 being built across Europe, however with estimates predicting that the total number of electric vehicles are projected to rise to 145 million, or 7% of road transportation, this number is going to have to substantially increase.
As the number of EVs and gigafactories increase across the continent, one key factor to consider is the supply chain. Currently, parts are shipped from Asia where it’s much cheaper. However, shipping batteries from Asia to Europe adds a considerable amount of pollution to a world that is already approaching breaking point.
Building confidence in the European market
One solution would be to – in a sense – bring the supply chain back from Asia to Europe. This means producing batteries for the European EV market in European gigafactories. The benefits would be felt across the industry for years to come.
Not only would it increase confidence in the European EV industry, likely increasing the number of EVs on the road, it would also bring a wealth of jobs to different countries, economies and sectors, many of which are still suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. The carbon footprint from transporting numerous part around the world would also be drastically reduced, and this can only be a positive
Focusing on areas with declining infrastructure
In order to fully benefit from gigafactories, we must carefully consider where they are to be built. It’s no use building these grand factories in areas that already have a bustling economy and strong job market. They should be built in areas with declining social infrastructure, in order to give something back to society. The prestige and potential of bringing the new green industrialisation to these regions can help to transform them into the hubs of industry they once were.
Let’s look at Tesla’s gigafactory in Berlin. According to reports, the factory is expected to employ 12,000 people and produce half a million cars for the European market per year while Tesla is hoping to invest 4 billion euros into the project. These numbers are of course brilliant for the automotive sector and the wider economy, the question has to be asked as to whether the factory could’ve been built where the jobs and money where needed more. Berlin has a relatively stable economy and jobs market so could Tesla have chosen a town that has been in decline for a number of years for the location of their gigafactory?
On the other hand the UK’s first gigafactory is currently being built in Blyth. Blyth is a small town on the Northumberland coastline, which has struggled since its main industries, namely shipbuilding and coal mining went into decline. Some areas of Blyth that were once considered some of Britain’s most deprived are now benefiting from 3,000 jobs thanks to the gigafactory, with more indirectly linked to the supply chain.
This is a story that can be told again and again, not just in the UK or Europe but around the world. We must begin looking towards areas that were previously hubs of industry and manufacturing, such as Detroit in the US and Scarmagno in Piedmont, where Italvolt is building its gigafactory. These places are iconic areas of industry, steeped in tradition that we can help rejuvenate as we look to build a greener, more sustainable future for the entire industry.
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