The Goalposts Move: The New Lithium-Ion Standard is An Astonishing $60 per kWh
Until Elon Musk’s Battery Day, the stretch goal was $100/kWh
Just last summer, the much-watched lithium-ion industry finally reached sight of a long-sought super-stretch goal — a battery pack costing $100 per kWh, allowing the price of electric vehicles to drop to that of conventional combustion. But in September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk held “Battery Day,” at which he declared that, to penetrate the mass market, EVs needed a crash diet, and proposed a roadmap to bring down battery prices another 40%, to about $56 per kWh. In March, Volkswagen, too, seemed to promise a battery costing around $60/kWh.
Now, the Energy Department — which tends to define standards across industry — is also targeting $60/kWh at the cell level. In an interview yesterday, Dave Howell, who directs the department’s powerful Office of Vehicles Technologies, told me that the new objective more closely approximates the total cost of the combustion drive train.
The new federal target, which comes just four months after the Energy Department declared $80/kWh at the pack level part of its “Energy Storage Grand Challenge,” appears to have been influenced by the stake in the ground by Musk and VW. But, by adopting their shared aggressive cost-cut goal, the government is regularizing it, making it an objective that mainstream researchers will be expected to eventually meet. It is also another dramatic illustration of how far lithium-ion batteries have come in a decade.
If you mark 2009 as the start of the global EV and batteries race — the year when the U.S., China and other countries embraced electrified transportation as a partial way out of the Great Recession — there was a very different landscape for the technologies: The cost of lithium-ion batteries was about $1,200/kWh. About the only commercial EV was the Tesla Roadster, which had a base sticker price of $109,000. Interest in batteries as a technology was all-but confined to fringe hobbyists or other eccentric souls.
But Howell and his small team at the Energy Department, assigned a budget of several tens of millions of dollars to fund battery and vehicle research, set out to push down battery costs and help to create a commercial…