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Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution

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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.

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Oil and Gas

How Oil Is Adding Fuel to Geopolitical Fragmentation

Which countries and regions decreased, banned, or increased Russian oil imports following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine?

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A preview Sankey chart showing Russian oil imported by country from 2021 to 2023.

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The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

How Oil Is Adding Fuel to Global Fragmentation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 led to severe bans or restrictions on Russian oil from the West. Meanwhile, other nations—including China, India, and Türkiye—opted to deepen trade ties with the country.

This graphic from the Hinrich Foundation is the final visualization in a three-part series covering the future of trade. It provides visual context to the growing divide among countries shunning Russian oil versus those taking advantage of the excess supply.

Which Countries Have Decreased or Banned Russian Oil Imports?

This analysis uses data from the IEA’s February 2024 Oil Market Report on Russian oil exports from 2021 to 2023.

Following the invasion, both the U.S. and the UK enacted a complete ban on Russian crude. Imports dropped from 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to zero by late-2022. 

Country/Region2021 (bpd)2022 (bpd)2023 (bpd)Change; 2021-2023 (bpd)
EU3.3M3.0M600K-2.7M
UK & U.S.600K100K0-600K
OECD Asia500K200K0-500K

Similarly, the EU, which has historically been more reliant on oil from Russia, dropped imports by over 80%, from 3.3 million bpd in 2021 to 600,000 bpd in 2023.

OECD Asia-Pacific—which includes Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand—also slashed their Russian oil imports. 

Which Countries Have Increased Imports of Russian Oil?

The pullback in demand for Russian crude from the West created a buying opportunity for countries and regions that chose not to support Western sanctions. 

Country/Region2021 (bpd)2022 (bpd)2023 (bpd)Change; 2021-2023 (bpd)
India100K900K1.9M+1.8M
China1.6M1.9M2.3M+700K
Türkiye200K400K700K+500K
Africa100K100K400K+300K
Middle East100K200K300K+200K
Latin America100K100K200K+100K
Other800K600K900K+100K

India increased its imports of oil from Russia, by the largest amount from 2021 to 2023—up to 1.9 million bpd from only 100,000 bpd

China, the biggest net importer, also saw a large uptick. The country boosted imports for Russian oil by over 40% over this timeframe. Türkiye increased imports of Russian crude by an additional 500,000 bpd

Several other regions—such as Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America—saw slight upticks in imports. 

Shifting Trade Dependencies

The dynamics present in the global crude market underscore broader trends in Russia’s trade relationships. Russia is becoming increasingly less economically reliant on the West and more reliant on China. 

From 2022 to 2023, the largest upward shift in the UNCTAD’s bilateral trade dependency estimates was Russia’s increased reliance upon China (+7.1%). 

DependentDepending OnAnnual Change
RussiaChina+7.1%
UkraineEU+5.8%
BrazilChina+3.0%

Note: Trade dependencies are calculated by UNCTAD as the ratio of two countries’ bilateral trade over the total trade of the dependent economy.

In fact, China threw a lifeline to Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion. The Atlantic Council reported that Chinese exports to Russia have grown 121% since 2021, while exports to the rest of the world have increased by only 29% in the same period.  

In contrast, Russia also exhibited a large decrease in reliance on the EU (-5.3%). South Korea and the U.S. have made shifts to further distance themselves from China as geopolitical tensions continue to mount.

DependentDepending OnAnnual Change
RussiaEU-5.3%
South KoreaChina-1.2%
U.S.China-1.2%

As the Russian oil market shows, geopolitical tensions have the potential to significantly impact trade. Though Russian crude exports remained steady amid the conflict, this necessitated a shift in its main trading partners. 

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Visit the Hinrich Foundation to learn more about the future of geopolitical trade

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