Copper is known as “man’s first metal”, and for over 10,000 years, it’s been used in applications ranging from architecture to coinage.
However, it was Michael Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 that turned demand on its head for the red metal. As the world used more and more electricity, copper became known as the obvious choice as an electrical conductor.
Every year, humans already gobble up around 28 million tonnes of the metal in uses mainly related to its electrical properties – and as we transition to a green energy paradigm, copper will be an even more vital ingredient to human progress than it is today.
COPPER IN GREEN ENERGY
Today’s infographic comes to us from Kutcho Copper, and it dives into copper’s applications with a focus on those in renewable energy.
Renewable energy systems consume approximately five times more copper than conventional power generation systems, making the metal essential for any successful transition to fossil fuel alternatives.
"To understand why renewables are so copper intensive, consider that around two hundred 3-megawatt (MW) wind turbines are needed to replace one large steam coal or gas turbine."
Looking at data per MW strengthens this case.
For every MW of wind power about 3.6 tonnes of copper is needed – and for every MW of photovoltaic solar capacity, about 4-5 tonnes of copper is required.
Further, roughly three times more copper is used for electric vehicles in comparison to conventional gas-powered vehicles. This alone could create a new major source of copper demand, and Schroders notes that if all 80 million new car sales were EVs today, that it would require 6 million tonnes of additional copper.
While this helps give a sense of perspective, let’s instead look at a less hypothetical case.
By 2035, Bloomberg projects a 43% penetration of EVs in the light-duty vehicle market, which will be roughly equal to 110 million cars. Using the above ratios, that’s about 3.6 million tonnes of extra copper demand – equal to about 15% of the current market.
NEW COPPER SOURCES?
Despite more copper being needed for green applications, there are some questions around where this new metal may come from.
Copper projects are notoriously large-scale in size, and the pipeline of new projects is the lowest in a century. As a result, analysts are expecting that the long-anticipated supply crunch might come sooner than expected.