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How better batteries can supercharge the industry

Despite the seemingly precarious nature of Theresa May’s government just a few weeks ago, policy announcements have started to seep out in recent days.

Among them this week was business secretary Greg Clark’s promise to invest £246m in new battery technology through the Faraday Challenge, including £45m for a new Battery Institute to research ways to make the technology cheaper.

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.

This is promising news and a further sign that the government is starting to move forward with its plans for the much-talked-about industrial strategy.

Battery technology may seem a bit peripheral to UK construction interests, but it could actually have a huge impact on the built environment.

Firstly, it’s no coincidence that this announcement was made in the same week the government decided to outlaw the sale of all petrol and diesel cars after 2040.

Improvements in battery storage technology could make that transition to electric vehicles much easier – the further you can drive without having to stop and recharge your car, the better.

The knock-on effect of this could be a lot of work for contractors to install the necessary infrastructure to support this surge in electric vehicles. There are currently around 12,000 public charging points in the UK, compared with around 8,500 petrol stations, but each petrol station of course has numerous pumps and refills take far less time than a charge.

More charging points will be needed, likely involving more conversions of existing petrol stations.

Plus, it shouldn’t be forgotten that all of this demand will place even more strain on the national grid, with varying estimates being bandied around as to how much more capacity will be needed – all at least a few Hinkley Point Cs-worth. Again, someone will have to build those new power stations, or other sources of renewable energy.

All of this could start to reshape the built environment in other, less obvious ways too.

Back in December last year I wrote about Tesla’s new solar roof tiles, with improved battery storage technology a vital piece of the puzzle in getting that kind of low-carbon tech to find wider adoption. If this did take off, might we see batteries installed in every home?

The government’s ambitious proposals, while they may not quite come to pass as promised this week, are certainly a step in the right direction to changing how we use energy – with potentially big impacts for UK construction.

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