Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution
Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution
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.
Schroders, British asset manager
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.
Ranked: The World’s Largest Copper Producers
Many new technologies critical to the energy transition rely on copper. Here are the world’s largest copper producers.
Visualizing the World’s Largest Copper Producers
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Man has relied on copper since prehistoric times. It is a major industrial metal with many applications due to its high ductility, malleability, and electrical conductivity.
Many new technologies critical to fighting climate change, like solar panels and wind turbines, rely on the red metal.
But where does the copper we use come from? Using the U.S. Geological Survey’s data, the above infographic lists the world’s largest copper producing countries in 2021.
The Countries Producing the World’s Copper
Many everyday products depend on minerals, including mobile phones, laptops, homes, and automobiles. Incredibly, every American requires 12 pounds of copper each year to maintain their standard of living.
North, South, and Central America dominate copper production, as these regions collectively host 15 of the 20 largest copper mines.
Chile is the top copper producer in the world, with 27% of global copper production. In addition, the country is home to the two largest mines in the world, Escondida and Collahuasi.
Chile is followed by another South American country, Peru, responsible for 10% of global production.
|Rank||Country||2021E Copper Production (Million tonnes)||Share|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||1.2||6%|
|🌍 Other countries||2.8||13%|
|🌐 World total||21.0||100%|
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and China share third place, with 8% of global production each. Along with being a top producer, China also consumes 54% of the world’s refined copper.
Copper’s Role in the Green Economy
Technologies critical to the energy transition, such as EVs, batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines require much more copper than conventional fossil fuel based counterparts.
For example, copper usage in EVs is up to four times more than in conventional cars. According to the Copper Alliance, renewable energy systems can require up to 12x more copper compared to traditional energy systems.
|Technology||2020 Installed Capacity (megawatts)||Copper Content (2020, tonnes)||2050p Installed Capacity (megawatts)||Copper Content (2050p, tonnes)|
|Solar PV||126,735 MW||633,675||372,000 MW||1,860,000|
|Onshore Wind||105,015 MW||451,565||202,000 MW||868,600|
|Offshore Wind||6,013 MW||57,725||45,000 MW||432,000|
With these technologies’ rapid and large-scale deployment, copper demand from the energy transition is expected to increase by nearly 600% by 2030.
As the transition to renewable energy and electrification speeds up, so will the pressure for more copper mines to come online.
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