BritishVolt picks site of Blyth Power Station for UK's first 'gigafactory'

£2.6bn scheme represents largest industrial investment England’s North East in more than three decades and will generate 8,000 local jobs, BritishVolt said.

The site of an old coal-fired power station on the Northumberland coast has been picked as the location for the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’, a plant expected to produce hundreds of thousands of batteries annually for the burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) sector, it was announced today.

Battery start-up BritishVolt confirmed this morning the 95-hectare site in Blyth had been selected due to its transport links and access to clean energy resources.

It touted the £2.6bn scheme as the largest industrial investment in England’s North East since Nissan opened its factory in Sunderland in 1984 and “one of the largest-ever industrial investments” in the UK.

Up to 3,000 highly-skilled jobs are set to be created in the ‘gigafactory’ and further 5,000 should be generated in its supply chain once the plant is commissioned in 2023, the company said.

BritishVolt chief executive Orral Nadjari said the development was a “tremendous moment” for UK industry, as well as for the ambitious clean tech start-up. “Now we can really start the hard work and begin producing lithium-ion batteries for future electrified vehicles in just three years,” he said. “It is crucial for the UK automotive industry and for the entire economy that we are able to power the future. The sooner we start, the better.”

“Blyth meets all of our exacting requirements and could be tailor made,” he added. “It is on the doorstep of major transport links, easily accessible renewable energy and the opportunity for a co-located supply chain, meets our target to make our gigaplant the world’s cleanest and greenest battery facility.”

BritishVolt is exploring the possibility of tapping hydroelectric power generated in Norway and transmitted 447 miles under the North Sea through the under-development North Sea Link project, it said.

The plant could prove to be of huge importance to UK automakers ramping up their EV product lines over the coming decade as they transform their business models to comply with the government’s recently confirmed 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars.

The development of a domestic battery ‘gigafactory’ has long been an ambition of the UK government, given that domestic electric car manufacturing is heavily reliant on battery components from abroad, raising significant potential challenges for the sector should trade tariffs emerge in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In Europe, Tesla is planning a gigafactory in Germany and Northvolt has raised $1bn for a similar facility in Sweden.

Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy toasted the deal, which he said would have a “massive impact” on the local region for decades. “These jobs will not only return the area to the status of an industrial powerhouse but will help us retain our graduates and provide a huge boost to struggling high streets,” he said. “I look forward to working with all involved and will provide the backing necessary to deliver a scheme that is a once in a generation opportunity.”

However, today’s announcement delivers a blow to Wales’ automotive industry, given BritishVolt had originally indicated that it planned to build its ‘gigafactory’ at a Bro Tathan site in the Vale of Glamorgan. Reports suggested the company had abandoned the Welsh site after it emerged it would not be ready in time to meet the company’s ambitious timetable, which will see it seek a stock market listing in the first half of 2021 with a view to its first batteries rolling off production lines within three years.

In related green development news this week, energy company ENGIE has scooped a £8.1m deal with Keele University to build a hybrid clean energy plant that help the institution meet its aim of fully decarbonising its power by the end of the decade.

Under the terms of the 25-year agreement, Engie will design, build and operate the renewable energy park planned in fields near the Staffordshire campus, which will comprise 5.5GW of solar, 1.7MW of wind, and 1MW/2MWh of battery storage.

The plant, which is set to include two wind turbines and up to 150,000 solar panels, will provide half the university’s power, the partners said.

“Keele University is trailblazing change in both the education sector and in terms of the green agenda,” said ENGIE UK and Ireland head of renewables Carl Foreman. “Universities spend huge sums in utility bills every year and this progressive energy park scheme will offer an exemplar in low carbon energy generation for higher education estates.”

And in further clean technology development news this week, plans for a district heating network in Hull that could provide low carbon heating to homes and businesses across the city have moved a step forward, after a tender process to “inform the next stage of the project” was launched by Hull City Council on Monday.

The launched tender will help the project’s backers develop a business case for the innovative heating project, the Council said.

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