A new Rocky Mountain Institute report released the end of October, Breakthrough Batteries Powering the Era of Clean Electrification, continues to confirm that clean electrification of transport technology is advancing at an impressive rate.
For years, cleantech enthusiasts have been saying that battery storage would swiftly drop in price just as solar, wind, computers, flat-screen TVs, and other technologies did before it. A Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) press release relates that, indeed, “exploding investment in battery technologies is revolutionizing the sector much faster than expected and setting in motion a seismic shift in how we will power our lives and organize energy systems as early as 2030.”
Breakthrough Batteries Powering the Era of Clean Electrification analyzed and focused on the major markets of China, the US, the European Union, and India.
There’s a huge market opportunity for #battery technology—new @RockyMtnInst report shows exploding investment in batteries is revolutionizing the sector much faster than expected. Read more: https://t.co/lLfgaS6O7U #Batteries #Renewables #EnergyTwitter pic.twitter.com/W3k82XqFuj
— RMI (@RockyMtnInst) October 30, 2019
“We can now say with confidence that the age of affordable battery technology is coming, and it’s happening faster than anyone expected,” said Madeline Tyson, senior associate at RMI and lead author of the report.
“We’re incredibly excited about what this accelerating pace of change means as we fight the climate crisis. Advanced battery technologies have the power to outcompete many fossil-fueled energy systems in the near term and can help us meet ambitious carbon reduction goals on or ahead of schedule.”
The development comes at a startling rate, with advancements in battery technology expected to briskly push the global energy transition faster. RMI reports, “With more than $1.4 billion invested in battery technologies in the first half of 2019 alone, massive investments in battery manufacturing and steady advances in technology have set in motion a seismic shift in how we will organize energy systems as early as 2030.”
As with other renewable movements, increasing holistic approaches from public and private sectors are evolving and necessary. With the growth in the business, Forbes points out that RMI anticipates “self-reinforcing feedback loops.” Thus, the conversation between public policy, manufacturing, research and development, and economies of scale will find success. “Those loops will drive battery performance higher while pushing costs as low as $87/kWh by 2025. (Bloomberg put the current cost at $187/kWh earlier this year.)”
“These changes are already contributing to cancellations of planned natural-gas power generation,” states the report. “The need for these new natural-gas plants can be offset through clean-energy portfolios (CEPs) of energy storage, efficiency, renewable energy, and demand response.”
The projection is that existing natural-gas plants will cease to be competitive. In this country, RMI predicts that will happen as soon as 2021. This will help solar and wind to achieve market share targets quicker, and retire fossil fuels sooner.
- Battery cost and performance improvements are quickly outpacing forecasts: Increasing demand for EVs, grid-tied storage, and other emerging applications are further fueling the cycle of investment and cost declines in batteries and setting the stage for mass adoption. Total manufacturing investment, both previous and planned until 2023, represents around $150 billion dollars, and analysts expect the capital cost for new planned battery-manufacturing capacity to drop by more than half from 2018 to 2023.
- These improvements spell trouble for natural gas and internal combustion engine vehicle markets: As batteries become cheaper and make renewables-plus-storage more competitive, legacy energy infrastructure will struggle to keep up. RMI finds that new—and soon, existing—natural gas plants are likely to be out-competed by clean energy portfolios as early as 2021, leading to a much greater risk of stranded assets. This mirrors a similar risk for traditional ICE vehicles.
- Lithium-ion, while still the leading battery technology, is likely not the universal solution of future energy storage technologies: Other technologies that are better suited for applications like long-duration energy storage, heavy trucking, aviation, and EV fast-charging infrastructure will increasingly drive these emerging battery markets. Savvy companies, governments and investors should explore and support these alternative battery technologies—not just Lithium-ion—accelerate and scale climate-critical solutions.
The report considers the fact that the United States has an opportunity to become a global leader in battery technologies beyond lithium-ion. Yet, it also mentions the risk of another superpower gaining the forefront — China, of course. “In order to avoid replaying the evolution of the solar photovoltaic market—in which China made the significant investment early in the game in order to become a dominant world superpower — the United States must prioritize investment and policies conducive to success now, or risk being pushed out of the market.”
“It’s crucial that the investor, policymaker and regulatory ecosystem stay ahead of the curve on battery cost and technology developments in order to fully capture the enormous environmental and economic opportunities to be had,” said Charlie Bloch, principal at RMI and coauthor of the report. “Climate progress can be supercharged if these groups stay aligned with each decision they make.”
Jeff McMahon, for Forbes, brings up concerns related to political shifts as well:
“An expanded trade war looms large over all industries and the entire global economy and is not in the interest of either the U.S. or China, and it is unproductive to speculate on the potential scope or outcomes of a battery or minerals-related action,” two of the report’s four authors, Charlie Bloch and James Newcomb, told me in an email.
The report reflects deeply on the EV market and a wide range of battery types and chemistries.
All together, the fundamental message is clear: dropping battery costs will continue to make Tesla vehicles competitive with the main market — or, realistically, more competitive!
Download the full report: Breakthrough Batteries Powering the Era of Clean Electrification