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Cheap batteries will revolutionise the renewable energy market

The big power companies will struggle to keep up as a solution emerges to the problem of storing wind and solar power

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Chris Huhne
Chris Huhne
The Guardian, Sunday 9 March 2014 15.30 EDT
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Elon Musk
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, posing with with a Tesla elecric car in Times Square. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

News this week, from opposite ends of the planet, that points to the convulsion of change about to hit the global economy. The first report came from Palo Alto, California, headquarters of the Tesla electric car company. Tesla’s car produces no carbon emissions (so long as the electricity that charges its batteries is also low carbon). Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, announced it would invest in a $4bn-$5bn “gigafactory” doubling the world’s production of lithium-ion batteries. These power your mobile phone, but also Tesla’s high-end luxury electric cars. The objective is to cut battery prices by 30% in three years, and to halve them by 2020.

Since battery cost is the main obstacle to electric cars, this is potentially game-changing. It would allow electric cars with a 200-mile range to compete with the Ford Mondeo and not just the BMW 5-series (Tesla has already spurred the Bavarian luxury car-maker into an electric response).

Tesla is treading the route first mapped by Henry Ford, whose mass production of the Model T halved the price of US cars. The same happened with computer memory and, more recently, solar panels, whose price collapsed by half in just over a year.

Nor is scale the only likely development in batteries. There is work going on in nanotechnology, making things tiny. This allows a much greater surface within a given size of battery, so that charging will be quicker, and storage capacity higher. If scale and technology work their miracles, cheap batteries will disrupt many more industries than cars.
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