Rumours of a Tesla gigafactory in Somerset have strengthened as the UK business secretary backed the ability of the county to “sustain an excellent gigafactory” and confirmed the Government is “considering” the site.
Speculation that US billionaire Elon Musk and his electric vehicle company are considering a move to build a new site at a currently under construction “smart campus” near Bridgwater, called Gravity, surfaced in the summer of 2020.
PropertyWeek, a trade publication, revealed the UK government was urgently seeking a 4 million sq ft site to accommodate a new Tesla gigafactory and that Gravity was one of the sites “trying to secure the enormous letting”.
The speculation was revived last month after a letter addressed to Elon Musk was sent to the Gravity site.
And this week, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng revealed he believes Somerset “has the manufacturing skill and competence to be able to sustain an excellent gigafactory”, adding that the Government is “considering and looking” at the site.
The minister was replying in the House of Commons to Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who labelled the “remarkable” Gravity site “one of the best sites in the United Kingdom” and one which “should be considered for the very important future of car manufacturing and battery manufacturing”.
Mr Kwarteng also outlined the Government’s pledge to support battery and electric vehicle manufacturing in the UK over the coming years.
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Gravity has previously stated its aim to attract “world-leaders in advanced manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles” to the site.
Somerset Live understands the Bridgwater site is one of only a handful of locations in Britain capable of housing a gigafactory and the large 635 acre location would appear to be an attractive potential base for Tesla.
Plans for the site include a direct link road to junction 23 of the M5, as well as purpose built on-site freight and passenger rail terminals.
Experts have noted a Tesla plant located in a country operating a right-hand drive system would be a “smart move” for the company as it continues its rapid global expansion.
The Faraday Institution, the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research and skills development, estimates that Britain will need one gigafactory by 2022, two gigafactories by 2025 and eight gigafactories by 2040 to meet demand for electric vehicles and batteries.
Gravity hopes to begin announcing the companies that will be moving to the smart campus later this year, Somerset Live understands.
‘Remarkable’ Gravity ‘able to sustain an excellent gigafactory’
In a debate on battery manufacturing strategy in the UK in the House of Commons on Monday (March 1), Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “The secretary of state is fully aware of the remarkable site we have down here in Somerset at Gravity, where we could put not only a megafactory but a battery factory.
“We would welcome his support for the Gravity site, because it is one of the best sites in the United Kingdom.
“We have just applied for freeport status as well, to help the situation with Bristol port.
“Will the secretary of state stand up and say that this is one of the sites in Britain that should be considered for the very important future of car manufacturing and battery manufacturing in the United Kingdom?”
Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, replied: “I would be delighted to make a statement that we are considering and looking at these sites.
“My Honorable Friend will know that I have visited Hinkley Point in his constituency and seen the great work there.
“I have no doubt that the manufacturing skill and competence of his constituents and his area will be able to sustain an excellent gigafactory.”
Earlier in the debate, Mr Kwarteng said: “It is my priority as business secretary to ensure that the UK continues to enjoy the benefits from our transition to ultra low and zero emission vehicles by continuing to build an agile, innovative and cost-competitive supply chain, which we need to secure vital international investment.
“With that in mind, we remain dedicated and absolutely committed to securing UK battery manufacturing. As part of the prime minister’s 10-point plan, we have already announced £500 million to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains, and other strategically important technologies, through the automotive transformation fund over the next four years.
“We continue to work with investors through the automotive transformation fund, and to progress plans for manufacturing the batteries that we will need for the next generation of electric vehicles here in the UK.”
He added: “I repeat: we are 100% committed to making sure that the UK continues to be one of the best locations in the world for automotive manufacturing, and we are doing all we can to protect and create jobs while securing a competitive future for the sector here in the UK.”
What we know so far
UK government hunts for suitable Tesla factory site in UK
An article published in Property Week stated the Department for International Trade (DIT) was searching for a 4 million sq ft site to accommodate an electric vehicle research, development and manufacturing plant for Tesla.
A spokesman for DIT told Property Week: “The government is working with industry to help make the UK the location of choice to develop world-class electric vehicle technologies.
“DIT is working closely with partners to scope out sites for new investment into electric vehicle research, development, and manufacturing across the UK.”
Four million sq ft is around 90 acres – which is roughly the same size as phase one of another planned Tesla gigafactory in Berlin.
Mr Musk has previously said Tesla considered the UK before choosing Germany as a location for a gigafactory.
“Brexit made it too risky to put a gigafactory in the UK” he said in an interview published in Auto Express, a motoring magazine, in November 2019.
Tesla currently has three operational gigafactories in Nevada, New York and Shanghai.
Huge Somerset site was ‘trying to secure’ Tesla deal
Property Week stated in its report that one of the business parks attempting to attract Tesla was Somerset’s 650-acre Gravity industrial estate.
The Bridgwater site was the only potential base named in the report.
The proposed gigantic 635 acre “smart campus” aims to attract “some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking companies” to the county, according to a boss leading the scheme.
The site has fast transport links for road and rail, and benefits from close proximity to Exeter Airport and Bristol Airport, as well as Bristol sea port.
The business park will also feature dark fibre internet connectivity, low carbon on-site energy solutions and water abstraction facilities from the adjacent River Huntspill.
Tesla submitted energy documents to UK authorities in 2020
Tesla’s potential foray into Britain may also be in connection with the company’s energy supply ambitions.
In early May, Tesla submitted a document to the relevant authorities in order to become an energy supplier in the UK, according to The Telegraph.
In its application to the UK’s Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, Tesla requested for a license that would allow it to generate electricity to supply “any premises” in Great Britain.
Elon Musk previously stated that Tesla Energy could be as large or even larger than the car sector of the company.
The Telegraph reports: “In a move that analysts predict could shake up the country’s power landscape, the electric car company has applied to the UK’s energy regulator for a licence to generate electricity.
“The application does not make clear why Tesla has applied for the licence.
“Having built a significant battery business in recent years, industry sources say that Tesla is now preparing to enter the British market with its technology.”