Europe risks ‘second mover’ status on battery tech, auditors warn

The EU's watchdog warned that Europe risk's getting left behind in the battery race. [Photo: Shutterstock]

Europe could be left behind in the international battery-building race, the EU auditors have warned in a report and stressed that better storage is needed if the bloc is to hit its climate and energy targets.

The briefing report published on Monday (1 April) by the guardians of the EU’s finances, the European Court of Auditors (CoA),  outlined some of the challenges faced by the bloc, as the watchdog looked into large-scale grid and transport storage, particularly battery technology.

The report concluded that “the current EU strategy might not meet energy transition challenges”.

Grid storage, in particular, has been touted as the main way Europe can unlock untapped renewable energy potential. Clean energy sources like solar and wind power cannot be switched on and off during peak times, so the energy has to be stored for when it is needed.

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Auditor Phil Wynn Owen, who penned the report for the court, said the technology will “play a fundamental role in achieving a low-carbon, mainly renewables-based energy system in the EU”.

But the briefing, which is not one of the CoA’s regular audits, concluded that “there is a risk that the EU has not sufficiently supported the market deployment of innovative energy storage solutions” and that funding criteria could be simplified.

The auditors acknowledged that new legislation has made it easier for power grid investors to overcome what were previously significant obstacles but warned that there are still problems when it comes to electric mobility.

Lithium-ion batteries, the technology of choice for electric vehicles, are not produced at the same scale in Europe as in other regions, particularly China.

The report warned that because of this, Europe risks becoming a “second mover” on the lucrative market, and suggested that the EU must ensure its strategy is coherent, technologies are actually deployed and charging infrastructure is made available.

As part of the EU’s Battery Alliance, a target of 200-gigawatt hours of manufacturing capacity by 2025 has been set but the auditors warned that current trends show it will struggle to scrape above 70Gwh by 2023.

The European Commission will publish a stock-take of the Alliance’s work so far next week.

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Batteries and storage are set to become even more important as electro-mobility and renewable energy go from strength to strength. That is why EU efforts are meant to help the burgeoning industry compete against the likes of China and electric carmaker Tesla.

Peter Altmaier, Germany’s influential economy minister, told an event on industrial policy in Brussels on Monday (1 March) that the move towards EVs means there is a risk that Europe could lose its important manufacturing role.

“If one day all the cars will be e-cars, with Asian components and US technology, then 55% of our cars would be made up of non-European parts. At the moment, our cars are 80% European,” Altmaier said.

Angela Merkel’s former right-hand man added that EU capitals and institutions should encourage their companies to build batteries “not just as commodities, but as standard setters”.

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Clean mobility group Transport & Environment agreed that the battery industry should “think big, go large scale and focus on market deployment” but warned that competing with the likes of China should not come at the expense of standards.

“We can only compete on quality: the EU should aim to produce the greenest, safest and best batteries. Supporting EU regulations for batteries, such as the upcoming battery ecodesign and recycling proposals, should help the industry and give green batteries a competitive advantage,” T&E expert Julia Poliscanova told EURACTIV.

Norway showed once again on Monday why it is the poster-child of electric vehicle uptake, when sales figures for March showed that almost 60% of all new cars sold were fully electric – a world record.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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