Real Electric Car Battery Costs Remain Elusive

By · April 24, 2012

Nissan LEAF battery pack

Nissan LEAF battery pack

Recent reports about the declining cost of electric car batteries raise as many questions as they answer. According to a report from Bloomberg News last week, EV battery costs fell to $689 per kilowatt-hour during the first quarter of this year, down from $800/kWh a year earlier. It wasn’t clear from the report if that cost is for cells, all components and software—or a total installed cost. Any quoted price per kilowatt-hour can be partial and hide costs that produce a misleading figure in either direction.

The relatively high cost of lithium ion battery packs are often cited as the biggest obstacle to mass adoption of electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

This week, the UK Committee on Climate Change issued a study (PDF) claiming that costs for lithium-ion automotive batteries currently come in at approximately $800 per kWh—translating the pack cost of a 93-mile-range EV (like the Nissan LEAF) to about $21,000.

The $800/kWh cost is for the whole battery system (although presumably not for installation). While the tone of the report is cautionary, stating that there are no big battery breakthroughs anticipated before 2020, the UK study says that by 2030, prices are predicted to drop to $6,400 for an electric range of about 155 miles.

In other words, that’s a three-fold price reduction, while adding 66 percent more range. (Sounds breakthrough-ish to me.) Of course, carmakers could conceivably choose to leave the range at 100 or so miles, and reduce the cost of a pack even further.

One could assume that the cost-per-kWh will occur in a stepped fashion between now and 2030, so that by 2020, the price of a pack for a car like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus Electric will be somewhere between where it is now, and a one-third slash while gaining two-thirds more energy storage.

My colleagues at Pike Research target $523 per kWh as a target price at which plug-in electric vehicle take a step toward being competitive with petro-powered cars, a level that could happen by 2017. The U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium pegs $150 per-kWh as the competitive price point.

Confusion about current prices—or future costs to make EVs competitive—are exacerbated by comments from auto executives who claim they have already greatly reduced battery costs. Last week, in the Wall Street Journal, Ford’s Alan Mulally said the 23-kWh pack in the Focus Electric costs “around between $12,000 and $15,000 apiece.” That puts the dollar-per-kWh price between $520 and $650. In 2010, Nissan stated that a LEAF’s pack costs about $9,000—or $375 for the 24-kWh pack. During Tesla’s fourth quarter 2011 financial results conference call in February, CEO Elon Musk said, “"I do think that cost per kilowatt at the cell level will decline below that, below $200, in the not-too-distant future."

I suspect that numbers will continue to get tossed around—low figures from automakers and high numbers from analysts. But the reality of what EV battery packs really cost any specific automaker will remain a tightly guarded secret.

Comments

· · 2 years ago

Tesla is clearly advertising prices of $500/kWhr and $400/kWhr for their upgrades from a 40 kWhr battery to a 60kWhr battery and a 60kWhr battery to an 85kWhr battery respectively(http://www.teslamotors.com/models/options). There are added others also added with these upgrades including supercharger support, dual Level 2 charger, and longer warranties so clearly these prices aren't just cell prices.
This is a bit lower than Pike's ridiculous "Target" of $523/kWhr in 5 years. I guess they are forward looking consultants that can't see the present?
Ford, of course, is probably just fearmongering as usual but even they come out between $522/kWhr and $652/kWhr which is pretty close.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

So different people are saying different prices. But what bloomberg says may be close to real. Prices dipped 14% from $800 to $689 and thats because 1,000s of Plugins/EVs were sold last year with 6 models already on the market.

Just like the price of Solar PV Panels went down, battery price may also go down, since Hybrids, Plugins and EVs are using Batteries.

· · 2 years ago

Cars using just batteries are doom to fail. Almost no normal consumers want a battery only car, they already have enouph problems with their cellphones and portable computers. I think the fuss come from a behind the scene push from big oil related folks
giving subsidies to medias, car manufacturers and policy makers after they discovered that these batteries will never replace petrol but it serve to do false green pr while polluting and making money like mad in real life for the forseeable future. batteries will never power a ship a train or an airplane so they don't care if some idiot buy a battery only car. Only the volt make sense in my view but the price is steep and overall you don't save money.

· · 2 years ago

@gorr,
"they already have enouph problems with their cellphones and portable computers
!!! sarcasm alert !!!
Yep, those markets never went anywhere. Nobody has bought those gimmicks. The only cellphones that anyone really uses are the gas ones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=767XHA5KQKY .
-- written from my portable computer using a BATTERY, before I drive 40 miles home in an electric car using a BATTERY

· · 2 years ago

I'm not going to even dignify gorr's totally bizarre rant with a direct reply this time. He simply plants himself on these threads with the idea that his fantastic claims will draw our ire. It's not working with me any longer. It's a waste of time to even try to talk him out of it. Let him simply walk off the figurative building ledge as he attempts to extract the foot from his mouth and we'll worry about cleaning up the mess later.

Getting back to the article, I note mention of an anticipated battery breakthrough that might occur in 2020 or shortly thereafter. I spent this past Saturday talking with engineers from GoE3, an Arizona-based company involved in setting up a nationwide network of Level 3 chargers, and scientists at Biosphere 2, where some fascinating research is going on in regards to related photovotaic research. I'll be providing a more detailed report about all of this fairly soon. In any event, one of the things that these folks were particularly excited about was research concerning lithium air batteries, which, as this article details, is something we could see benefits from within the next 10 years . . .

http://www.green-energy-news.com/nwslnks/clips412/apr12034.html

Technology isn't standing still. While we don't have something approaching a Moore's law in regards to batteries just yet, it's obvious that what we have available today is better than what was here a decade ago. With the economies of scale ramping up the production output of existing technology, the batteries we know about today are bound to get cheaper in a few years. With the true brain power being expended on making today's batteries even better, it's inevitable that the state of the art will keep advancing.

· · 2 years ago

Here are a couple of indicators of price
- $8,000 for the 16 kWh Volt battery as quoted by the president of the company that males those battery (a subsidiary of LG). That makes it $500/kWh.
- $600/kWh quoted as the average price by the industry consortium a couple of years back that has A123 & Nissan among its member

There is one more aspect to the confusing numbers - are we talking about total capacity or usable ? It was earlier assumed that of the 16 kWh, Volt would use 8 kWh. I think that was the source of the widely quoted $1,000/kWh.

· · 2 years ago

@EVNow,

The LG subsidiary only makes the cell and not the entire pack. So we don't know how much it cost for GM to assemble the pack with liquid cooling, control electronics. Does that raise the price to $10k, $12k, $15k for a completed pack?

· John Kalb (not verified) · 2 years ago

I drive an ActiveE with a real range of 100 miles on a full charge. Perfect for local driving in Marin and into SF. I'd like to see a 200 mile battery range to take me to meetings in Silicon Valley because I can't make a round trip on a single charge and the availability of chargers at my destinations in non-existent, and/or not reliably available. I would pay more for range and if the breakthrough is only 66% that might not yet be good enough for a car that can be driven around the bay area.

· · 2 years ago

I wonder if Tesla has a price advantage because it's using commodity computer-grade cells. I know they've built in safeguards because of potential higher rates of failure of these cells, which might mitigate this advantage to some degree. Not sure what this will mean for battery life over lifetime of vehicle. But the lower cost of buying commodity rather than automotive-grade cells allows Tesla to claim lower $/kWh numbers. Am I on the right track?

· · 2 years ago

@Brad,
Yes, your understanding is the same as mine about Tesla's cells. There could be a lifetime issue. However, having a 200 mile range when most people drive less than 40 miles per day and even heavy drivers generally drive less than 120 miles per day probably helps the lifetime greatly as few people will really do that many complete charge cycles. By treating the cells nicely with their liquid cooling system, these commodity cells should last a lot longer than they would in laptop computers.
I don't see Tesla's 'mitigation' as being particularly expensive. They simply fill the gaps between cells with a flame supressing material that also improves the cooling efficiency of the tubes carrying coolant around the pack.
The big indication of overall battery costs that I see is that if Tesla's commodity pricing is in the $400 to $500/kWhr range, it can be assumed that this is around the commodity price today. The "automotive grade" cells should be able to come down to these prices as they improve production efficiency too. These prices should to decrease in the future even further.

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

The cells which will be used in the Tesla Model S will not only be specifically for the automotive sector, but also developed by Panasonic in cooperation with Tesla. However the fact that they use the common 18650 format means that the mass production facilities for producing 18650 cells can be used, reducing cost.

· Objective (not verified) · 2 years ago

At a capacity cost of $500/kWh, and with an expected lifetime of about 2,000 full cycle equivalents, that comes to about $0.25 per kWh to cycle the electricity through the battery. This is the cost of "handling" electricity through these batteries, and this is why reducing (total lifetime) battery cost will do more for electric vehicle viability than anything else. (If batteries lasted 10,000 full cycles, their current price would be attractive.) This $0.25 per kWh handling is like paying $8.42 per gallon for handling your gasoline. The cost of the actual electricity is on top of that, adding anywhere from $0.03 per kWh special off-peak rate to an effective rate of $0.35 per kWh at some of the for-profit charge stations. The current national average rate for residential electricity is about $0.11 per kWh, with much of the populated Northeast paying from $0.15 to $0.20 per kWh. I don't know how much battery costs can be reduced. Over the history of the battery, progress has surged from time to time hasn't it?

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Objective: > "like paying $8.42"

No. Compared to gas car with 25 mpg (which is about the current average) it would correspond to $2 per gallon, except that the price is included in the purchase price of the electric car (don't count it twice). In 7 to 10 years, when you might need a replacement, the cost will be much lower.

> "I don't know how much battery costs can be reduced."

A lot. There are many technologies in development with the potential to reduce cost a lot, and only one of them needs to succeed. Most of them involve increasing energy density as well, so that less material per kWh is needed.

· Objective (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Norbett: The mpgE ratings for mileage are based on 33.7 kWh = 1 gallon of gas. That means you need 33.7 kWh of electricity to cover those miles of EPA rating, about 100 mpgE for several electrics. So if there is a cost of $0.25 per kWh for electricity, and 33.7 kWh are expended to get 100 mpgE, then it follows that 33.7*0.25 = $8.42 for that "gallon" of energy. As far as how much battery costs could be reduced, we can all agree that there is plenty of room between their current price... and free. Let's say that price doesn't get reduced, but longevity does. If the total expected full charge cycles were 5,000, then that "handling" cost would only come to $0.10 per kWh. Will anybody be able to achieve significant cost reduction... perhaps. Predicting the future is a speculative business. Right now, there are commercially available ultracapacitor modules whose total "handling" costs are only about $0.08 per kWh. Of course, they don't have the energy density to be viable for the current electric car configuration. They are used, I believe, in conjunction with EV batteries to limit surge demands on the battery, which helps battery longevity, effectively helping lower total battery cost.

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Objective

Your calculation assumes that a gas car would get 100 mpg as well, which is of course not the case. 25 mpg is about the current average, your calculation does not factor in the inefficiency of gasoline engines.

And again, of course the battery is included in the price of the car, so that calculation is only theoretical in the first place.

> "Predicting the future is a speculative business"

Rest assured that time doesn't stand still. That you even mention "ultracapacitor modules" in this context shows that you haven't done your homework yet. Most experts expect a cost reduction of about 8% per year. For the next 5 years, some expect more.

· Objective (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Norbert: Where exactly did I say that a gasoline car gets 100 mpg? What is the matter with you? You're replies are vague, but overtly defensive. You detail none of your math. Instead you just brandish a number or two as if you've made your point. You seem emotionally invested in what amounts to a crystal ball prediction of the future. Are you afraid to simply outline a rational comparison of the costs? Lastly, how does offering a capital cost comparison of ultracapacitors vs. Li-ion batteries demonstrate in any way that my knowledge on this subject is somehow deficient compared to yours? Are you aware that in Shanghai, (China) several electric buses are in service using not batteries, but ultracapacitors for energy storage? Sorry to have called you on your attitude like this, but you need it. "Rest assured that time doesn't stand still..." whoever said it did? Not me. I simply said it's not necessarily a piece of cake to accurately predict future developments. History has proven more soothsayers wrong than right - run that by as many experts as you like, and I'll venture the prediciton that you'll find that most agree. Anyway, I do hope batteries improve, but I don't think it is worth conversing with you any further. Good day.

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Objective

It appeared as if you were fluent enough in making calculations, to follow my points. However I can spell it out in more detail:

Using your calculation: You calculated $8.42 for 100 miles ("100 mpgE"). Since a gas car usually gets only 25 miles per gallon, it is a forth of that, when comparing to a gas car: $8.42/gallon / 4 = $ 2.105 per gallon.

Or the way I would calculate it: Electric cars get about 3 miles per kWh (roughly, if not more). This means that $0.25 cost per kWh results in $ 0.0833 per mile (0.25 / 3). A gas car usually gets 25 miles per gallon. 25 miles/gallon * $0.0833/mile = $ 2.08 / gallon.

Does this clarify it?

I don't think your accusation of "emotional crystal ball predications" is beside the point, I'm simply referring to quite common observations about battery cost development, both about the last 10 years and from people who are insiders about current developments, as well as from recently published studies which confirm this more or less. (Though some people get confused about the differences between different battery types used for different kinds of EVs/hybrids.) You are welcome to have different opinions about the future, but I think it has little if anything to do with ultracapacitors in China. Claiming that battery prices won't change at all is IMHO either FUD or lack of knowledge.

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

Or in words: With an assumed battery cost of $0.25 per kWh electricity consumed (with the assumed cycle lifetime), the battery cost would be about $2 for the distance which an average gas car can travel with 1 gallon of gasoline.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

I think the key sentence in this article (and anything I read about battery cost) is “It wasn’t clear from the report if that cost is for cells, all components and software—or a total installed cost.”
By reading into various cost reports and estimates, I don’t think that everyone’s Li-Ion (cell) costs are that different from each other, probably in the $450-500 range (as stated by ex-EV1 driver).
For example, although we don’t know what Tesla’s battery pack costs (including all supporting systems like controls, cooling system, structure, safety circuitry, charger, etc.), we do know that they are charging $500/kWh when upgrading from the 40 kWh base pack. There is little added cost to a pack when adding cells other than the cost of the cells themselves. Therefore, Tesla’s cell costs are <$500/kWh, depending on their profit.
Now let’s consider Ford. Assuming their cell cost is $500/kWh also, that makes their cell (only) cost $11,500. Add to that the costs of the supporting systems and voila, you have a pack cost of $12,000-$15,000 as reported, depending on what they include in their pack. Anyone that says that one manufacturers battery cost is 1/2 that of another is not comparing apples to oranges. The cell costs are probably within 10% of each other and the costs of the supporting battery pack stuff is where the difference is.

· · 2 years ago

@Objective,
I like your "handling fee" view on Li-ion. I've been trying to find a metric to quantify this and I think you've got something there.
I'm swamped now and can't really join in you and Norbert's fight but you can be sure I'll start looking at this approach.
Why don't you officially join this discussion. I think we may be able to get somewhere.

· Spec (not verified) · 2 years ago

Bob Lutz recently through out the figure of $350/KWH at a recent panel he participated with at the Hudson Institute.

· Norbert (not verified) · 2 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver

Agree that it is an interesting approach. Aside from the question of correct calculation, the input parameters are probably too optimistic for the current point in time, but we might get to an equivalent of $2/gas-gallon in just a few years.

· Chris C. (not verified) · 2 years ago

"I think the key sentence in this article (and anything I read about battery cost) is 'It wasn’t clear from the report if that cost is for cells, all components and software—or a total installed cost.'"

BINGO.

There are a lot of aspects to this matter reviewed by this article and the comments, but the key is that you first must ensure an apples to apples comparison.

Objective ... You will make your case better if you A) refrain from insulting the others here and B) break up your text a bit. Meaning go back after you first type it out and refine it. Take the time to write it out well and we'll take the time to read and engage.

· Objective (not verified) · 2 years ago

Censoring your contributors? Just like the communists and dictatorships. None of you have a spine. None of you can handle a shred of truth tossed back at you. Nobody can make any case contrary to what you want to hear, because you throw out their comments!

· MaxBob McDermand (not verified) · 2 years ago

GM has tested the battery in the Volt for 150,000 miles in electric mode. At today's replacement cost that is 6 cents a mile to use the battery Assuming a 8% percent reduction in cost per year for batteries in 10 years that cost per mille falls under 3 cents per mile. Using todays cost right now with electricity the volt in electric mode cost about a dime a mile. Maintenance is nil except for tires and brakes (and with regen the brakes last a VERY long time) I'll go out on a limb here and predict that depreciation will be less for electrics. Right now today an electric costs less to operate than an ICE vehicle and it will only get better over time as battery technology improves. The improvements will be incremental but they will come.

· America 1st (not verified) · 2 years ago

The real cost of gas? I served 20 years in the Air Force as did my wife. We export one thing well, America dollars to petrol middle east oil barons. No thank you. The real cost of gas is an export quotient of $400 billion dollars and let's tell the truth, another $400 billion annually to secure oil for trading partners competing against us. Insanity to even have this discussion the one its framed here. The real cost of a gallon of gas is just over $10 a gallon if we'd look at macroeconomics our country faces, versus the long-term addiction perspective of one person looking outward. We all need to join forces and put the jobs and those dollars to work right here at home. Every dollar exported or used to protect oil is added to every product or service we Americans then have to compete on the world shelves. Focus on the right things - our country is at stake over this.

· · 1 year ago

Many factors affect the cost of the electric car battery. The three most important influences were the economy of scale, a decrease in the cost of components and improved battery capacity.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 1 year ago

All these lower prices are great news:

1). I'd like to pre order my Cadillac Escalade Electric, with 600 mile range and 200 KWH battery. It will only take 30 hours or so to charge it with my current charging dock and that's fine with me...I only take 600 mile trips every so often.

2). Fast Level 3 chargers I suspect will take advantage of this decrease in cost. Already, several charger dock manufacturers are coming out with a Level I input, and Level II output, i.e. 1400 watt draw from the existing 110 outlet in the garage all day to charge up the DOCK's batteries, then charge at 240v@30 amps when the car is home for the day. Utilities LOVE this kind of load because its only another 1.5 kva demand on their system, and its almost continuous.

3). It doesn't take a genius to realize why not make a similiarly operating Level II input, Level III output fast charger..Since the Level III charger is going to be spending the vast majority of its 24 hour day unused, why not take the power in at a slow rate (battery buffering) to greatly minimize utility demand charges? But then the few cars that can profit from a level III charge can get filled lickedy split. Also, the extra cost of the Dock's batteries can be mitigated by the lack of electric service change at the service station.. Example: if the commercial garage only has a single phase 200 amp service, this will be plenty for this unit and the garage, as opposed to the added cost of putting in an additional 277Y/480V 150 amp service just to make the charger work, along with plenty of demand charge (~~ $1500/ month / charger )

· Anonymous (not verified) · 1 year ago

I think the main thing is whether it costs less than head gasket repair. It doesn't matter how much the initial cost is, but if the repairs kill you down the stretch, it's not worth it. Thanks for the article, though!

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