Last fall, I interviewed John Mitchell, an associate research fellow with Chatham House and a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to energy transitions. One quote I used from him — in an article I wrote for Corporate Knights— really stood out for me: “For oil, the Kodak moment will be when somebody produces a low-cost battery, as that will change the transport market profoundly.”
Mitchell didn’t mention a specific price-point, but a number I’ve heard tossed around as the likely tipping point is $100 per kilowatt-hour. At that price it’s believed electric cars can easily outcompete gas-fuelled vehicles by pretty much every measure. Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel said last year that he expected that $100 target to be hit by the end of this decade.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance says it expects battery cell packs for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) to average less than $120 kWh by 2030. Colin Mckerracher, BNEF’s head of advanced transportation, had a post on Twitter last week featuring an interesting slide from a Ford investor presentation. Ford, according to the slide, thinks its battery cells for BEVs can hit $120 kWh in 2020 and projects costs hitting $95 by 2025 and $85 by 2030. BNEF will be updating its price survey next quarter, Mckerracher tells me.*
Finally, we can’t let the week go by without pointing to the soon-to-be-launched GM Chevy Bolt, which we learned will have a range of 238 miles (383 kilometres) between charges. It has been reported that the batteries used in the Bolt come in at $145 kWh. The car will still be priced in the high $30,000 range, but the fact a mainstream carmaker like GM is hitting this range at this price point in 2016 is nothing short of phenomenal, and in my opinion should silence all the EV haters who have dismissed the technology and its potential. Did they really believe that EV tech as reported in 2010 would never change, never get better, never get more affordable?
And let’s not obsess over just cars. Buses and big trucks, previously considered off limits to battery technology, are now being eyed as potential markets. Elon Musk, in Part Deux of his Master Plan, cited plans in July for a “Tesla Semi” unveiling next year and a desire to get into “high passenger-density urban transport” — i.e. buses. A Michigan-based company called Nikola Motor Co. is coming out with its own electric drive semi-trucks fuelled by hydrogen, while Proterra has a bus that can go 350 miles (564 km) on a single charge.
No wonder Exxon Mobil has beefed up its anti-EV lobbying. The company is getting worried. It sees the trend line, and it knows what this means for its core business. The only stalling tactic it has at this point is to continue feeding the public an increasingly tired line: EVs and their batteries need further development and cost-reductions to be competitively viable on a large scale.
It’s hogwash, of course. At some point within the next decade, Exxon executives are going to have to turn to the camera and smile for their Kodak moment.
*Paragraph has been updated from earlier version.