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I've been mulling over whether to have a domestic battery installed. I already have solar panels. I know that installing a battery will reduce my reliance on grid electricity, however I have concerns about where the battery is produced.

I think it's fair to say that China is pretty dominant in the production of batteries, including some of good quality. My concern is that China is less regulated and is still building coal-fired power stations. China's CO2 emissions are really high, as you see here and on Our World in Data here <- watch the short video.

This video on coal emissions since industrialisation is useful too in graphically observing the changes; you can see some countries and regions including Canada, Western Europe and Argentina are abandoning coal.

Finally to my question: What is better, bite the bullet and buy a cheaper Chinese-made battery now. Or wait until I can afford to buy a less-polluting, in terms of CO2 emissions, more expensive Canadian, West European or Argentinian battery?

I feel ethically I can't buy a Chinese one. Yet environmentally and in terms of CO2 emissions, what would the best option be for this conundrum?

(I've not even mentioned the fact China uses slave labour as part of it's production (references: take your pick from these search results, plenty of reliable sources amongst them)

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  • I think you are thinking this incorrectly. If you buy from China, you are supporting our dependence on China. That's the main problem. As for emissions, yes, western batteries would produce less emissions during manufacturing, but considering that it allows you to use clean solar power during night, it's a non-issue. If you actually use the battery, it does more good than harm. So ask this question: do you want that everyone is dependent on China or not? If you don't want that, supporting western battery industry is good choice.
    – juhist
    Oct 21, 2023 at 10:42
  • @juhist perhaps trade with China is an issue for you, but OP didn't mention it and since it's an ethical stance based on a particular worldview you can't definitively say it's the "main problem" or ignoring it is "incorrect".
    – thosphor
    Nov 15, 2023 at 14:18
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    @Tally You mention China's use of slave labour but the West is just as complicit. The slavery in the mines in Congo is part of the battery supply chains all over the world. It's unlikely you can buy any slavery-free battery anywhere.
    – thosphor
    Nov 15, 2023 at 14:20
  • Good point on the materials mining, it is a shady business. Seems difficult to do the right thing, every choice seems compromised.
    – Tally
    Nov 15, 2023 at 15:22
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    It is possible to get LFP (Lithium Ferrous Phosphate) batteries for domestic storage, which have better safety and lifespan over other Li-ion batteries for stationary use and do not contain any cobalt, so are not contributing to slavery in the Congo
    – andyyy
    Nov 17, 2023 at 12:38

2 Answers 2

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Just a brief answer to my own question, following Juhist's helpful comment. I'm choosing to answer this from a UK perspective, as the UK seldom uses coal in power stations to produce electricity. (Norway might be even better, as they use loads more renewable energy than the UK).

I found a post by the Centre for Alternative Technology which covers the CO2 emissions issue well. The post explains that in less than 1 year of use of a domestic battery, the emissions saved from not burning gas to produce electricity would outweigh the emissions of a UK-produced domestic battery.

The carbon emissions payback on a Chinese-produced battery would be longer, due to higher coal use, I can't put a figure on this though. Depending on which Chinese battery is installed, there might also be quality issues - though Huawei are said to be pretty high-end, though many other manufacturers are not. So its important to do your research.

It's not been the focus of my question, but the slavery of millions of the Uyghur minority group needs to be taken into account - see more info on that here. Incidentally, Russia and Saudi Arabia seem much worse than China on this measure. Furthermore, it's worth mentioning that Western countries have exposure to modern slavery too, based on their supply chain; for more info look at the country studies on the same website.

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To answer the maths question simply I think you have 2 options:

  1. (easier option) Find out how much energy (in kWh) it takes to produce a battery of the size you want. Find out the grid emissions intensity of China and another country you're considering. Work out the rough grid emissions used to make your battery. Using the grid emissions for where you live, calculate how your "emissions pay back rate", and see how long it would take to pay back a Chinese battery vs your other choice.
  2. (harder option) Same as option 1, except try to find a multi-regional input output (MRIO) model for free which has emissions factors for electronics manufacturing in the two countries you want. (Try searching free MRIO emissions factors.) Then follow the same procedure, but using these emissions factors instead of the grid ones.

The second option is more difficult because the emissions factors may be more difficult to find (you have to pay to see a lot of the MRIOs which are out there); the first option should be easier but depends on the ratio of grid emissions in each country being the same as the electronics sector emissions.

Ethically, although China's supply chains are probably worse for human welfare, other countries aren't perfect. It's widely known that conditions in cobalt mines in Congo are appalling, with the use of children and slaves, and cobalt from these mines permeates the world's supply chain. (See https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2020.11.018 for example)

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