A national centre for excellence in developing electric vehicle (EV) batteries has received an additional £24 million in funding on top of its initial £80 million endowment. The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, planned to be in Coventry, will develop and test batteries, train a new workforce in battery manufacturing, and become the UK’s first large-scale battery factory (or Gigafactory). The additional funding comes from the newly-launched West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy – the first such policy from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The West Midlands are an important contributor to the UK economy – representing 5% of economic output and experiencing 27% growth since 2014. The West Midlands Industrial Strategy reflects BEIS’s outward-oriented approaches to increasing UK competitiveness.
The West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy was announced in the same week as a new policy proposal floated by the Labour party. Labour has unveiled plans to deploy rooftop solar panels across nearly two million households. Installations would be funded through programmes of interest-free loans, grants, and changes to regulation. The party estimates that households could save £117 a year on energy bills. Any excess capacity in generation could be used by the National Grid at local levels, which would raise £66 million per year for councils. However, stationary energy storage is also key to efficient use of rooftop solar energy. Stationary energy storage has an uncertain future following an EU Directive to suspend the Capacity Market. Without alternative support for it, widespread adoption of rooftop solar might not effectively offset centralised fossil fuel generation. Furthermore, Labour’s plan rests on bringing the National Grid back under public ownership. The plan echoes the floated Green New Deal in the United States. Labour has suggested that the cost of re-nationalising the grid be reduced by considering the lack of investment and financial mismanagement it has seen since privatisation. However, previous attempts to re-nationalise infrastructure (Railtrack’s example under Tony Blair in 2002) produced legal battles over repayments to private shareholders.