Europe Needs Over 30 Battery Gigafactories By 2025

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For ease of thinking, I use 1 BGF (battery gigafactory) as unit of production capacity. This refers to the original planned size of the first Tesla battery gigafactory in Nevada. Plans change and factory sizes change and our realization of what is needed changes. But that first shockingly gigantic factory that could produce more than the total world battery production capacity from the year before, 35 GWh, will stay burned in the minds of all who followed the news on Tesla and EV production in those days.

30 BGF is manageable in our heads, whereas 1,000 GWh is practically meaningless even though the two are the same. Just like lightyear (9,460,730,472,580.8 km), a BGF (35,000,000,000 Wh) means an awful lot more than we can imagine, but we can at least picture the factory and some of what went into making it. It is a better unit to make clear the effort that is needed to realize our collective goals.

When I wrote my article about the Osborne effect, I came to 2025 as the most likely date by simple extrapolation of trends. I did not try to include the effect of government measures, carmakers refusing to bring models to market, or the world becoming paralyzed by a pandemic.

Today, I’d like to write about a condition for the transition that will likely not be met — the battery production capacity needed for the transition in Europe. For most of that capacity, the factories will only exist as blueprints, or they will be struggling through permitting procedures like the Berlin Tesla Gigafactory is now. Most plans will not be shovel ready even as they should be hitting full production.

The way I calculated the amount needed is by believing that I am right and BloombergNEF is partly right. I think that, when we see price parity on the showroom floor, the last obstacle to buying fully electric is removed. The analysts at BNEF see price parity in 2025/2026 and a 100% BEV market in 2035. Okay, that first part I consider right, while the second part is their vision.

I think many people will try to switch to BEV before price parity is reached because BEVs are better, safer, and have lower total cost of ownership (TCO). After price parity is reached, the market for vehicles with a tailpipe will dwindle to almost nothing. It will happen faster than in the legacy car managers’ worst nightmares.

The European auto market is about 17 million vehicles big. It consists of 15 million passenger autos, 2 million light commercial vehicles, and 300,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks. That gives me the following calculation for the batteries we need.

  • 15 million for PV with an average 70kWh battery = 1,050 GWh
  • 2 million LCV with an average 100kWh battery = 200 GWh
  • 300,000 MHCV with an average battery of 250kWh = 75 GWh

Together, that is 1,325 GWh, a tad more than the 30 BGF I noted above, but there will not be factories to make that many BEVs. Battery sizes will be influenced by price per kWh, speed of charging, density of charging infrastructure, usage patterns, experience, and expectations. These numbers are based on my personal experience and market observations.

I know that many readers will say that we can be frugal with the few batteries we have; that we must convince users that with a different way of thinking, or behavior, they can be happy with less; that people don’t need so much. To those, I will say: “Ever seen a Christmas dinner, or a Thanksgiving fest?” You only need 2,000k calories to 2,500k calories per day on average. Look at the movie Woodstock for healthy young people. It is not what we need, but what we desire.

This is about the demand from people who voluntarily decide that a BEV is a more attractive alternative than a FFV for them. The ability to go on vacation with the car is far more important in Europe than in the USA. Most households are single-car households. The mythical road trip is a staple of American culture, the yearly mass migration to the sun or the snow is a staple of the European way of living.

Recently, I wrote an article about Dutch plans for charging infrastructure rollout in the Netherlands this decade. It is to build 1,000,000 public chargers. Multiply it by 30 for the EU and make it a few years sooner. That is another challenge. With 17 million new BEVs on the roads each year, we need 10,000,000 public Level 2 chargers and 20,000 superfast DC chargers each year.

What is needed to charge the coming fleet of BEVs with renewable energy I will discuss in another article. But this gist is the grid will need about as many batteries for storage by 2030 as transport will need for vehicles. That brings the need for battery plants to 70 BGF to 100 BGF by 2030. These are very rough calculations. But the order of magnitude is correct. The task we face challenges the imagination.

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Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Grumpy old man. The best thing I did with my life was raising two kids. Only finished primary education, but when you don’t go to school, you have lots of time to read. I switched from accounting to software development and ended my career as system integrator and architect. My 2007 boss got two electric Lotus Elise cars to show policymakers the future direction of energy and transportation. And I have been looking to replace my diesel cars with electric vehicles ever since. At the end of 2019 I succeeded, I replaced my Twingo diesel for a Zoe fully electric.

Maarten Vinkhuyzen has 280 posts and counting. See all posts by Maarten Vinkhuyzen