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Visualizing Copper’s Role in the Transition to Clean Energy

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A future powered by renewables is not in the distant horizon, but rather in its early hours.

This new dawn comes from a global awareness of the environmental impacts of the current energy mix, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Technologies such as wind, solar, and batteries offer renewable and clean alternatives and are leading the way for the transition to clean energy. However, as with every energy transition, there are not only new technologies, but also new material demands.

Copper: A Key Piece of the Puzzle

This energy transition will be mineral intensive and it will require metals such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt. However, one metal stands out as being particularly important, and that is copper.

Today’s infographic comes to us from the Copper Development Association and outlines the special role of copper in renewable power generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

Copper and the Clean Energy Transition

Why Copper?

The red metal has four key properties that make it ideal for the clean energy transition.

  1. Conductivity
  2. Ductility
  3. Efficiency
  4. Recyclability

It is these properties that make copper the critical material for wind and solar technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

It’s also why, according to ThinkCopper, the generation of electricity from solar and wind uses four to six times more copper than fossil fuel sources.

Copper in Wind

A three-megawatt wind turbine can contain up to 4.7 tons of copper with 53% of that demand coming from the cable and wiring, 24% from the turbine/power generation components, 4% from transformers, and 19% from turbine transformers.

The use of copper significantly increases when going offshore. That’s because onshore wind farms use approximately 7,766 lbs of copper per MW, while an offshore wind installation uses 21,068 lbs of copper per MW.

It is the cabling of the offshore wind farms to connect them to each other and to deliver the power that accounts for the bulk of the copper usage.

Copper in Solar

Solar power systems can contain approximately 5.5 tons of copper per MW. Copper is in the heat exchangers of solar thermal units as well as in the wiring and cabling that transmits the electricity in photovoltaic solar cells.

Navigant Research projects that 262 GW of new solar installations between 2018 and 2027 in North America will require 1.9 billion lbs of copper.

Copper in Energy Storage

There are many ways to store energy, but every method uses copper. For example, a lithium ion battery contains 440 lbs of copper per MW and a flow battery 540 lbs of copper per MW.

Copper wiring and cabling connects renewable power generation with energy storage, while the copper in the switches of transformers help to deliver power at the right voltage.

Across the United States, a total of 5,752 MW of energy capacity has been announced and commissioned.

Copper in Electric Vehicles

Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle (EV). This is because EVs rely on copper for the motor coil that drives the engine.

The more electric the car, the more copper it needs; a car powered by an internal combustion engine contains roughly 48 lbs, a hybrid needs 88 lbs, and a battery electric vehicle uses 184 lbs.

Additionally, the cabling for charging stations of electric vehicles will be another source of copper demand.

The Copper Future

Advances in technologies create new material demands.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the transition to renewables is going to create demand for many minerals – and copper is going to be a critical mineral for the new era of energy.

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Energy

A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

World emissions have reached almost 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and counting. Which major sectors do they originate from?

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A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

In a few decades, greenhouse gases (GHGs)—chiefly in the form of CO₂ emissions—have risen at unprecedented rates as a result of global growth and resource consumption.

To uncover the major sectors where these emissions originate, this graphic from Our World in Data pulls the latest data from 2016 courtesy of Climate Watch and the World Resources Institute, when total emissions reached 49.4 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalents (CO₂e).

Sources of GHG Emissions

Global GHG emissions can be roughly traced back to four broad categories: energy, agriculture, industry, and waste. Overwhelmingly, almost three-quarters of GHG emissions come from our energy consumption.

SectorGlobal GHG Emissions Share
Energy Use73.2%
Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use18.4%
Industrial processes5.2%
Waste3.2%

Within each category, there are even more granular breakdowns to consider. We’ll take a closer look at the top two, which collectively account for over 91% of global GHG emissions.

Energy Use

Within this broad category, we can further break things down into sub-categories like transport, buildings, and industry-related energy consumption, to name a few.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions ShareFurther breakdown
Transport16.2%• Road 11.9%
• Aviation 1.9%
• Rail 0.4%
• Pipeline 0.3%
• Ship 1.7%
Buildings17.5%• Residential 10.9%
• Commercial 6.6%
Industry energy24.2%• Iron & Steel 7.2%
• Non-ferrous metals 0.7%
• Machinery 0.5%
• Food and tobacco 1.0%
• Paper, pulp & printing 0.6%
• Chemical & petrochemical (energy) 3.6%
• Other industry 10.6%
Agriculture & Fishing energy1.7%-
Unallocated fuel combustion7.8%-
Fugitive emissions from energy production5.8%• Coal 1.9%
• Oil & Natural Gas 3.9%
Total73.2%

Billions of people rely on petrol and diesel-powered vehicles to get around. As a result, they contribute to almost 12% of global emissions.

But this challenge is also an opportunity: the consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could significantly help shift the world away from fossil fuel use, both for passenger travel and for freight—although there are still speedbumps to overcome.

Meanwhile, buildings contribute 17.5% of energy-related emissions overall—which makes sense when you realize the stunning fact that cities use 60-80% of the world’s annual energy needs. With megacities (home to 10+ million people) ballooning every day to house the growing urban population, these shares may rise even further.

Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use

The second biggest category of emissions is the sector that we rely on daily for the food we eat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, methane from cows and other livestock contribute the most to emissions, at 5.8% total. These foods also have some of the highest carbon footprints, from farm to table.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions Share
Livestock & Manure5.8%
Agricultural Soils4.1%
Crop Burning3.5%
Forest Land2.2%
Cropland1.4%
Rice Cultivation1.3%
Grassland0.1%
Total18.4%

Another important consideration is just how much land our overall farming requirements take up. When significant areas of forest are cleared for grazing and cropland, there’s a clear link between our land use and rising global emissions.

Although many of these energy systems are still status quo, the global energy mix is ripe for change. As the data shows, the potential points of disruption have become increasingly clear as the world moves towards a green energy revolution.

For a different view on global emissions data, see which countries generate the most CO₂ emissions per capita.

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Energy

Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome

The pace of mainstream EV adoption has been slow, but is expected to accelerate as automakers overcome these five critical challenges.

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Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome

Many would agree that a global shift to electric vehicles (EV) is an important step in achieving a carbon-free future. However, for various reasons, EVs have so far struggled to break into the mainstream, accounting for just 2.5% of global auto sales in 2019.

To understand why, this infographic from Castrol identifies the five critical challenges that EVs will need to overcome. All findings are based on a 2020 survey of 10,000 consumers, fleet managers, and industry specialists across eight significant EV markets.

The Five Challenges to EV Adoption

Cars have relied on the internal combustion engine (ICE) since the early 1900s, and as a result, the ownership experience of an EV can be much more nuanced. This results in the five critical challenges we examine below.

Challenge #1: Price

The top challenge is price, with 63% of consumers believing that EVs are beyond their current budget. Though many cheaper EV models are being introduced, ICE vehicles still have the upper hand in terms of initial affordability. Note the emphasis on “initial”, because over the long term, EVs may actually be cheaper to maintain.

Taking into account all of the running and maintenance costs of [an EV], we have already reached relative cost parity in terms of ownership.

—President, EV consultancy, U.S.

For starters, an EV drivetrain has significantly fewer moving parts than an ICE equivalent, which could result in lower repair costs. Government subsidies and the cost of electricity are other aspects to consider.

So what is the tipping price that would convince most consumers to buy an EV? According to Castrol, it differs around the world.

CountryEV Adoption Tipping Price ($)
🇯🇵 Japan$42,864
🇨🇳 China $41,910
🇩🇪 Germany$38,023
🇳🇴 Norway$36,737
🇺🇸 U.S.$35,765
🇫🇷 France$31,820
🇮🇳 India$30,572
🇬🇧 UK$29,883
Global Average$35,947

Many budget-conscious buyers also rely on the used market, in which EVs have little presence. The rapid speed of innovation is another concern, with 57% of survey respondents citing possible depreciation as a factor that prevented them from buying an EV.

Challenge #2: Charge Time

Most ICE vehicles can be refueled in a matter of minutes, but there is much more uncertainty when it comes to charging an EV.

Using a standard home charger, it takes 10-20 hours to charge a typical EV to 80%. Even with an upgraded fast charger (3-22kW power), this could still take up to 4 hours. The good news? Next-gen charging systems capable of fully charging an EV in 20 minutes are slowly becoming available around the world.

Similar to the EV adoption tipping price, Castrol has also identified a charge time tipping point—the charge time required for mainstream EV adoption.

CountryCharge Time Tipping Point (minutes)
🇮🇳 India35
🇨🇳 China34
🇺🇸 U.S.30
🇬🇧 UK30
🇳🇴 Norway29
🇩🇪 Germany29
🇯🇵 Japan29
🇫🇷 France27
Global Average31

If the industry can achieve an average 31 minute charge time, EVs could reach $224 billion in annual revenues across these eight markets alone.

Challenge #3: Range

Over 70% of consumers rank the total range of an EV as being important to them. However, today’s affordable EV models (below the average tipping price of $35,947) all have ranges that fall under 200 miles.

Traditional gas-powered vehicles, on the other hand, typically have a range between 310-620 miles. While Tesla offers several models boasting a 300+ mile range, their purchase prices are well above the average tipping price.

For the majority of consumers to consider an EV, the following range requirements will need to be met by vehicle manufacturers.

CountryRange Tipping Point (miles)
🇺🇸 U.S.321
🇳🇴 Norway315
🇨🇳 China300
🇩🇪 Germany293
🇫🇷 France289
🇯🇵 Japan283
🇬🇧 UK283
🇮🇳 India249
Global Average291

Fleet managers, those who oversee vehicles for services such as deliveries, reported a higher average EV tipping range of 341 miles.

Challenge #4: Charging Infrastructure

Charging infrastructure is the fourth most critical challenge, with 64% of consumers saying they would consider an EV if charging was convenient.

Similar to charge times, there is much uncertainty surrounding infrastructure. For example, 65% of consumers living in urban areas have a charging point within 5 miles of their home, compared to just 26% for those in rural areas.

Significant investment in public charging infrastructure will be necessary to avoid bottlenecks as more people adopt EVs. China is a leader in this regard, with billions spent on EV infrastructure projects. The result is a network of over one million charging stations, providing 82% of Chinese consumers with convenient access.

Challenge #5: Vehicle Choice

The least important challenge is increasing the variety of EV models available. This issue is unlikely to persist for long, as industry experts believe 488 unique models will exist by 2025.

Despite variety being less influential than charge times or range, designing models that appeal to various consumer niches will likely help to accelerate EV adoption. Market research will be required, however, because attitudes towards EVs vary by country.

CountryConsumers Who Believe EVs Are More Fashionable Than ICE Vehicles (%)
🇮🇳 India70%
🇨🇳 China68%
🇫🇷 France46%
🇩🇪 Germany40%
🇺🇸 UK40%
🇯🇵 Japan39%
🇺🇸 U.S.33%
🇳🇴 Norway 31%
Global Average48%

A majority of Chinese and Indian consumers view EVs more favorably than traditional ICE vehicles. This could be the result of a lower familiarity with cars in general—in 2000, for example, China had just four million cars spread across its population of over one billion.

EVs are the least alluring in the U.S. and Norway, which coincidentally have the highest GDP per capita among the eight countries surveyed. These consumers may be accustomed to a higher standard of quality as a result of their greater relative wealth.

So When Do EVs Become Mainstream?

As prices fall and capabilities improve, Castrol predicts a majority of consumers will consider buying an EV by 2024. Global mainstream adoption could take slightly longer, arriving in 2030.

Caution should be exhibited, as these estimates rely on the five critical challenges being solved in the short-term future. This hinges on a number of factors, including technological change, infrastructure investment, and a shift in consumer attitudes.

New challenges could also arise further down the road. EVs require a significant amount of minerals such as copper and lithium, and a global increase in production could put strain on the planet’s limited supply.

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