The European Commission has granted approval for Germany to provide €902 million ($987mn) in state aid to Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt AB. This approval marks the inaugural application of a new rule allowing European Union nations to match foreign subsidies to prevent investments from diverting outside the bloc.
Battery startups are drawing in record-breaking investments, reflecting the growing potential of the sector. Last year’s global venture funding is about to exceed the records set in the last 2 years.
Northvolt is Electrifying Europe 2023 marked by a global drop in venture investments, but the figures in the battery sector are defying the trend. This underscores the urgency highlighted by recent climate change projections, emphasizing the critical role of advanced battery technology and sustainable production in addressing environmental challenges.
Northvolt’s plan involves constructing an electric vehicle battery production plant in Heide, Germany, with an annual capacity of 60 GWh. The state aid approval ensures the project moves forward in Germany instead of the US. The battery-maker had considered establishing a lithium-ion facility in Canada under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
The state aid initiative, known as the Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework, is part of an effort to fortify European manufacturing in strategic sectors, such as batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels, amid intense global competition. It allows national governments to match subsidies if there’s a risk that a project is likely to be taken elsewhere.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, highlighted the importance of enabling states to match aid to secure investments within Europe. Likewise, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck clarified that the German state aid doesn’t entirely match the subsidies offered by the IRA. Still, it is sufficient to encourage Northvolt to pursue the new plant in Germany.
The aid comes in the form of a €700 million grant and a €202 million guarantee. Habeck rejected the notion that the matching aid mechanism primarily benefits wealthier EU nations only. He further emphasized the importance of European solidarity and acknowledged the escalating global competition, particularly from China and the US. He specifically noted that: “We need a more robust industry for the new sectors — semiconductors, batteries, electrolysers, hydrogen. But this means that climate action and industrial production fit very, very well together.”
The EC has also approved a €2.9 billion French scheme supporting the production of devices needed for the transition. These include batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and heat pumps.
EU’s Strategic Move in Battery Tech The demand for battery power would grow to 2,035GWh by 2030 from 185GWh in 2020, a whopping 11x increase. About 90% of that comes from transportation alone.
In terms of size, the global battery market was estimated at over $107 billion in 2022 and can potentially hit around $475 billion by 2032, according to market research.
Northvolt’s plans for the Heide plant include the production of 800,000 to 1 million EV batteries annually starting in 2026. The battery manufacturer also aims for full production capacity achieved by 2029.
The Stockholm-based manufacturer is the first European company to produce a battery cell from a gigafactory. This term is used to refer to large-scale manufacturing facilities dedicated to electrification.
In a 2023 industry report, three remarkable financings exceeded $1 billion and Northvolt is one of them. The company secured $1.2 billion from investors in 2023 to support its expansion in Europe and North America.
The battery titan has a factory in Northern Sweden, the largest factory in the country’s history. This plant can generate 60GWh of batteries a year when operating at full capacity. The company also has a facility in Poland.
Anders Thor, Northvolt’s vice president of communications and public affairs, hailed the European Commission’s positive decision. He highlighted its significance not only for Northvolt’s planned battery production but also for the broader European battery industry. He anticipates final voting procedures from local communities.
As Northvolt gets the green light in state aid from Germany, the battery giant is set to revolutionize the energy landscape. The approval underscores the EU’s commitment to fostering strategic sectors, driving sustainable production, and combating global competition. Amidst heightened climate concerns, this landmark decision propels Europe toward a resilient and competitive future in advanced battery technology.