As part of a ‘modern industrial strategy’ the Government recently announced a £246m investment in developing battery technology in the UK.
The business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, who announced the funding, also announced The Faraday Challenge – a £45m prize aimed at incentivising innovation that will make batteries more accessible and affordable. Whilst this Faraday Challenge will concentrate on batteries for electric vehicles it will also have wider implications on how batteries could be applied in other environments, including the construction industry.
The news has been welcomed by many and represents the first steps of a long-term industrial strategy.
The first phase of the Faraday Challenge will take the form of a competition led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and builds on a pledge announced in last year’s Autumn Statement to invest £23bn in a National Productivity Investment Fund.
Clark will also confirm another £25m to be allocated to research and development of connected autonomous vehicles, this time on schemes for off-road, driverless vehicles destined for construction, farming and mining.
Often seen as peripheral technology, battery development could have a huge impact on the construction industry and the built environment.
It’s no coincidence that this announcement was made roughly at the same time as the government announced that the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles would end after 2040.
Battery storage technology will have to improve if the government hope to ease the transition to electric vehicles. In basic terms, the longer you can drive without having to stop and recharge your vehicle, the better.
Professor Philip Nelson, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said: “Batteries will form a cornerstone of a low carbon economy, whether in cars, aircraft, consumer electronics, district or grid storage. To deliver the UK’s low-carbon economy we must consolidate and grow our capabilities in novel battery technology.”
This will have a knock-on effect in terms of infrastructure. The requirements to support a surge in electric vehicles will need to be available long before the 2040 deadline arrives. For instance, the national grid will need significant improvements to cope with the increase in demand. Several companies within the construction industry will look to lead the way in terms of developing this infrastructure.
All of this could start to reshape the built environment in other, less obvious ways too.
It is likely that further announcements centred around the developments in battery technology will be made within the next few years. These developments could include solar panels which are now being used in new and innovative ways.
The government’s ambitious proposals, while they may not quite come to pass as promised, are certainly a step in the right direction to changing how we use energy – with potentially big impacts for UK construction.