1. Committee findings

In March 2021, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee launched an inquiry into the role of batteries and fuel cells in meeting the government’s target for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Following this inquiry, in October 2021 the committee published its report entitled ‘Battery strategy goes flat: Net zero target at risk’. The committee warned that the UK needed to increase its battery manufacturing capacity. It argued that weak growth in the sector would undermine the UK’s ability to achieve its net zero target. The committee also said there was increased demand for batteries from UK automotive manufacturing, arising from the move towards electric vehicles. It warned that, if the UK industry failed to meet this demand, this increased the risk of automotive manufacturers moving overseas.

Launching the report, the then chair of the committee, Lord Patel (Crossbench), said:

The committee found that the government’s ambition to reach net zero emissions is not matched by its actions. The government must align its actions and rhetoric in order to take advantage of the great opportunity presented by batteries and fuel cells for UK research and manufacturing.

The government must act now to avoid the risk of the UK not only losing its existing automotive industry, but also losing the opportunity for global leadership in fuel cells and next-generation batteries. The government must develop a coherent successor to the industrial strategy and promote its objectives clearly, both domestically and internationally, supported by investments commensurate with those of the UK’s international competitors.

The committee identified a series of deadlines facing the automotive industry which meant the UK should urgently address battery manufacturing capacity. It noted that:

2. Committee recommendations

The report made several recommendations, including that the government should:

  • Establish a strategy for transport, hydrogen and wider decarbonisation. The committee argued the government should publish its promised hydrogen strategy as soon as possible.
  • Support the development of UK battery industry supply chains and establish a strategy for securing access to the raw materials needed to make batteries. The committee also recommended the government should ensure the automotive industry had access to a sufficiently skilled workforce to support the transition from mechanical to electrical technology.
  • Establish new research and innovation institutions for fuel cells. It described fuel cells as being the ‘Cinderella’ of UK energy policy, in that it received less attention than it deserved.
  • Work with Ofcom to ensure appropriate regulation and incentives were in place to support the expansion of the electricity network. Specifically, the committee stated the importance of developing smart systems for managing supply and demand. It also said the government and Ofcom needed to support the expansion of other more sophisticated services, such as smart tariffs and battery storage.
  • Support the expansion of the public charging network. The committee argued the government should commit to meeting the target of delivering around 325,000 charge points by 2032, as recommended by the government’s independent advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change.
  • Decide on whether to phase out of the sale of new diesel heavy goods vehicles. The committee also recommended the government should ensure the infrastructure was in place to support this. It said the government should provide a clear timeline for the research and development of technologies necessary to support this transition, including batteries and fuel cells.
  • Accelerate its rail electrification programme in order to support the transition away from diesel trains.

3. Government response

The government published its response to the committee’s report on 12 October 2021. The government said it was committed to supporting the automotive industry in the transition to zero emission vehicles. It said this would include safeguarding and growing jobs in the automotive sector. It also said it was committed to identifying and securing the minerals and metals necessary to support the transition to net zero.

The government set out the following measures it was implementing to support the transition to net zero:

  • The publication of its UK hydrogen strategy in August 2021 and the announcement of policies to support low carbon hydrogen production in the UK. The government said it was committed to the UK achieving 5 gigawatts of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
  • The establishment of the automotive transition fund in order to help the sector meet the requirements of the rules of origin agreement with the EU.
  • The expansion of skills in the automotive sector through skills programmes, including the Department for Education’s emerging skills electrification project and UK Research and Investment’s driving eclectic revolution challenge. It also said the UK’s battery research programme, the Faraday Institution, was monitoring skills gaps in the sector and supporting graduate, post-graduate and early careers education.
  • Research funding into the development of next-generation batteries through grants from UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
  • The provision of £1.3bn in funding to support the roll-out of charge points on motorways and major A roads. The government said this funding would also be used to support the roll-out of charge points for homes and businesses and on-street charge points.
  • The launch of the hydrogen for transport programme to support the development of fuel cell technology. The government also said it was providing support through the fuel cell electric vehicle fleet support scheme.

The government said it was analysing the responses to its 2020 consultation banning the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid heavy goods vehicles. It said it would publish its response to the consultation as soon as possible. The government also it said would seek to give clarity to the sector on the technologies necessary to ensure this transition could happen.

The government did not refer to the committee’s recommendations on rail electrification in its response.

4. Recent announcements

Since the publication of the government’s response to the committee’s report, the government has made the following announcements:

5. Read more

Cover image by Eren Goldman on Unsplash.