Sunderland to be at the centre of UK’s electric vehicle revolution

The unveiling of EV36 Zero: (left to right) Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta, Patrick Melia, Chief Executive Sunderland City Council and Lei Zhang CEO of Envision. Photo credit: Nissan / Richard Rayner.

By Anders Lorenzen

Nissan, the Japanese carmaker, has delivered a big boost to the UK green economy which will also create over 1,000 green jobs.

The company has unveiled what they call a £1bn electric vehicle (EV) hub which will establish the first EV manufacturing ecosystem in the world.

In a big boost to the industrial heartland of northern England, this initiative will centre around an innovative plant in Sunderland named EV36Zero which Nissan says will supercharge the company’s drive to carbon neutrality and zero-emission motoring.

The project

Initially, Nissan and its project partners Envision AESC, a global player in battery technology, together with Sunderland City Council invested £1bn in the project.  Nissan says that EV36Zero will bring together electric vehicles, renewable energy and battery production and set a blueprint for the future of the automotive industry. Envision AESC will deploy integrated AIoT smart technology to monitor and optimize energy consumption, manufacturing and maintenance at its new gigafactory, enabling it to rapidly increase production and provide batteries to power up to 100,000 Nissan electric vehicles a year.

A part of Nissan’s investment, £423million, will go towards the production of a new-generation all-electric vehicles in the UK. The company says they will build on the success of the Nissan LEAF, and promise next-generation vehicle styling, efficiency and battery technology, making the switch to electric driving even more accessible. It will be designed for global markets with the UK production exported to European markets. In a boost to post- Brexit Britain, Nissan says that the production in Sunderland will create 909 new jobs at the plant, and more than 4,500 in the UK supply chain, while safeguarding a further 75 R&D jobs. 

The transformational project takes the total capital investment by Nissan into the plant past £5bn. In addition, the project also involves R&D at Nissan’s European Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, support for UK suppliers to transition to electric vehicles, plant competitiveness, environmental improvements and skills development in the Nissan workforce for future technologies.

The second phase of this partnership is the development of next-generation EV batteries and this is where Envision AESC comes in. The company, which already operates Europe’s first battery plant in Sunderland, will invest £450million to build the UK’s first gigafactory on the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), adjacent to the Nissan plant, powered by renewable energy and pioneering next-generation battery technology.

The gigafactory represents an initial 9 gigawatt-hours (GWh) plant and will create 750 green jobs and safeguard 300 jobs. There is a potential to scale it up to 25GWh – which will create 4,500 green jobs in the region by 2030, in total there is the capacity to scale it up to 35GWh. The company says the new plant will increase the cost-competitiveness of EV batteries produced in the UK, including through a new Gen5 battery cell with 30% more energy density which improves range and efficiency. This will make batteries cheaper and EVs more accessible to a growing number of customers in the future.

And the third partner, Sunderland City Council, is leading a project that aims to deliver a 100% renewable electricity ‘Microgrid’ that will save 55,000 tonnes of carbon annually. With the ability to incorporate the existing Nissan wind and solar farms, initial plans suggest there could be as many as ten solar farms created, with an anticipated 132 megawatts (MW) generation, and with a direct connection to renewable energy from the UK grid for ‘firm’ supply to Nissan and automotive companies located on the IAMP. In a first-of-its-kind, this project is estimated to be an £80 million investment and also includes plans for a 1MW battery storage system using second-life Nissan/Envision AESC batteries.  The project will also allow for excess energy generated during daylight hours to be captured and used at another time, helping to balance demand on the grid.  Additional infrastructure projects enabling the creation of the new EV Hub take the total initial investment above £1bn.

Pioneering efforts

Nissan President and Chief Executive Officer, Makoto Uchida said: “This project comes as part of Nissan’s pioneering efforts to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the entire lifecycle of our products. Our comprehensive approach includes not only the development and production of EVs but also the use of on-board batteries as energy storage and their reuse for secondary purposes.’’

Nissan’s Chief Operating Officer, Ashwani Gupta, added: “This is a landmark day for Nissan, our partners, the UK and the automotive industry as a whole. Nissan EV36Zero will transform the idea of what is possible for our industry and set a roadmap for the future for all.’’

Lei Zhang, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Envision Group, said about their role in the project: “Our mission is to be the net-zero technology partner of choice for global enterprises, governments, and cities. We are therefore delighted to be a part of EV36Zero with Nissan and Sunderland City Council. As part of this, Envision AESC will invest £450m in a new, cutting-edge, low-carbon giga-factory in Sunderland creating 700 new jobs.’’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was delighted by the boost to the UK economy: “Nissan’s announcement to build its new-generation all-electric vehicle in Sunderland, alongside a new giga-factory from Envision-AESC, is a major vote of confidence in the UK and our highly-skilled workers in the North East.’’

Sunderland City Council leader, Councillor Graeme Miller called it a game-changer: “Sunderland is an ambitious city, and today’s announcement is game-changing one for us, for the region and UK Plc, and the culmination of many months of partnership working with Nissan, Envision and UK Government to ensure that we landed this transformational project. We’re proud to be acting as a key enabler, working to secure an £80m infrastructure project that could be the first of its kind in the UK, bringing together energy generation, consumption and storage through a dedicated microgrid. We have a commitment to making Sunderland as a city carbon neutral by 2040 and electrification is a key part of that vision.” 

Some climate commentators have previously voiced concern that a Brexit Britain could be left behind in the global green revolution.

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