The Price of Electric Car Batteries is Dropping Fast

A new lithium-ion battery is installed u

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

According to a new study by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the days of affordable electric vehicle batteries may arrive sooner than experts predicted. Research appearing in Nature Climate Change journal has EV battery costs already lower than they were expected to be in 2020, which means long-range battery-powered cars may arrive on the ambitious timeline automakers have set.

Progress in battery costs

The researchers delved into battery costs for vehicle manufacturers between 2007 and 2014, charting the decline from $1,000 per kWh to around $300 per kWh in recent figures for the top companies — a number that was expected to be years away for automakers and battery producers. A benchmark of $230 per kWh was even considered feasible by as early as 2017.

CarbonBrief.org, which quoted excerpts of the study, noted the researchers said the $230 per kWh figure is optimistic but well within the realm of possibility before 2018. The authors of the research consider anything below $250 per kWh capable of making batteries a competitive segment matched against current oil prices. According to their findings, the best hope is for incremental change rather than a solution that doubles current capacities.

Gigafactory projections

When Tesla was calculating the impact of its Gigafactory on battery costs, the figure quoted was $100 per kWh by 2025. Skeptics, notably Menahem Anderman from Advanced Automotive Batteries, suggested a capacity of $200 by 2020 was unlikely, making Tesla’s plans for an affordable EV premature. Anderman said $167 per kWh was reasonable to expect by 2025, given the current state of lithium-ion cells.

The study in Nature Climate Change offers reason to consider that pessimism.

Chevy Bolt

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CarbonBrief.org notes the researchers’ optimism for falling battery prices as more automakers enter the electric vehicle segment. According to the study, the increases have amounted to nearly double the EVs in production every year, which offers hope that General Motors’ entry with the Chevrolet Bolt EV will provide even more reductions in pricey battery packs in the coming years.

Creating a mass market for EVs

Tesla’s decision to open source its patents was seen as a move to increase the number of electric cars on the road and, with more companies in the game, make it a better market for consumers and an easier arena for manufacturers. The study on the declining battery prices suggests the strategy is already paying off for the high-profile EV maker.

Even with more charging stations becoming available, gas prices remaining low, and better products hitting the market every year, the main obstacle to mainstream EV adoption remains the vehicle prices. Caught between overly optimistic projections from automakers and pessimistic predictions from others with their own agenda, the new study provides reassurance that lower-emissions driving is becoming more possible every year.

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