Holland, Michigan is poised to be the western anchor for a web of advanced energy storage (aka battery) manufacturing facilities that will serve the surging electric vehicle market. In ten years, the new plants are expected to bring 62,000 new jobs to the middle chunk of the state – a welcome relief for cities like Holland, which is currently experiencing about 15% unemployment.
A considerable amount of federal support is going into the effort. As reported by The Detroit News, in a recent visit to the Rust Belt town, President Obama attended the groundbreaking for one of the new plants, a 650,000 square foot behemoth for Compact Power, Inc., a subsidiary of the South Korea based company LG Chem. The plant is being funded by a $151 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, matched by Compact. In an interesting twist, one of the plant’s new customers, Eaton Corporation, will apply its energy efficiency know-how to optimize energy use at the new facility.
The Growing Market for Lithium-Ion Batteries
The new plant is already humming with prospective customers. Eaton has selected Compact’s new plant as the battery supplier for its new Eaton hybrid electric drive systems. Ford is also on board, tapping Compact to supply li-ion battery packs for next year’s new Ford Focus, and the plant will also supply components in battery packs for GM’s Chevy Volt. Another example of the market surge in Michigan is A123 Systems’s new battery plant in Livonia, which has also lined up multiple customers including Eaton, Navistar and Fisker.
Federal Support for Advanced Energy Storage and Green Jobs
All this activity hasn’t happened by accident. It’s part of a planned $2.4 billion federal investment through the Recovery Act to gear up the nation’s advanced energy storage capabilities. Currently the U.S. provides only 2% of the world’s automotive batteries, meaning that we are on track to transition from dependence on foreign oil to dependence on foreign energy storage – in other words, out of the frying pan, into the fire – unless somebody does something and fast. With private industry keeping a tight fist on its cash reserves, looks like it’s up to we, the people, to get things started through taxpayer funding. Nationwide, the federal plan is to finance 30 new manufacturing facilities, which would supply an annual market of 500,000 electric vehicles by 2015 or about 40% of the global supply. A considerable amount of R&D funding is also part of the effort, with the aim of increasing battery range while reducing costs up to 90%, in order to achieve market competitiveness with conventional gasoline vehicles.
The History of Holland and Federal Help
Holland is a lakeshore city established by an adventurous band of 60 Dutch immigrants in 1847. They spotted great potential in the region but soon realized that the swampy terrain precluded future economic growth, so they petitioned Congress to dig a channel. When they were turned down, they went ahead and dug one themselves. Well, that was then, this is now. Powerful global forces are at work, and the economic survival of any individual region depends on pulling together resources from all available partners. According to the Detroit News, Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra, who attended the same groundbreaking as President Obama, called the program a risk of taxpayer money (er…wasn’t the Iraq War a risk of taxpayer money, if you want to go there). In any case, investment in the domestic economy is a risk well worth taking, and this time the citizens of Holland and other distressed areas around the U.S aren’t cut adrift from the collective help of individual taxpayers throughout the country.
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