According to the globally renowned consultation group Wood Mackenzie, the decade between 2018 and 2028 will see the installation of new offshore wind capacities up to 130GW and new onshore 650GW volumes that will then use up over 5.5 metric Megaton of world copper.
Renewable energies fuelling the uptake
According to the consultancy, wind technology is the most copper consuming power generator anywhere in the world today and expected to consume the vastest amount in 10 years. With nations globally working towards low to zero carbon emissions from power generators, interest in renewable energies has gone up, particularly solar and wind.
Conductor of choice
Copper’s different attributes such as durability, pliability to being a top conductor and its characteristic low resistivity to electricity has seen its use in the generation, transmission and distribution of energy gone up. Wind farms around the world are expected to intensify the use of copper and its use is forecasted to go up massively in just ten years.
Copper is extensively used in different areas of a wind turbine, from the cabling in the tower, gearbox, and transformers to generators. According to Wood Mackenzie, cabling uses about 58 per cent of all the copper in wind installations. The period 2018-2028 will see entire cabling networks alone using more than 3 Megatons of the metal.
Regional consumption of copper
Wind technologies around the world are expected to consume 450 metric Kilotons annually of copper in the first four years (2018-2022) before rising to annual 600 metric Kilotons by 2028. China is expected to be the top consumer of copper at 110 metric Kilotons every year up to 2028 considering it has the strongest new onshore wind energy capacity globally. The United States will come closely second at 35 metric Kilotons annually up to 2028.
Even so, Europe remains the top market with Germany, UK and the Netherlands leading in offshore installation with an 80 metric Kiloton average consumption of copper annually, due to increased copper usage in different offshore installations. Gigantic wind turbines are being developed and will raise the metal’s intensity further.
Huge demand for copper has seen prices going up rather fast compelling manufacturers to introduce other usable materials and considering the use of others in the creation of wind turbines. For instance, aluminium has been considered an affordable and lighter option, but uses up more material than copper cables to reach similar conductivity and electrical resistivity. Aluminium also demands higher maintenance.
Reluctance to take up alternatives
Most generators according to the consultancy group are not ready to take up alternatives to copper just yet until such a time when reliability, safety and quality of the materials would be guaranteed. Nonetheless, companies such as Enercon have already started using aluminium-made coils in their EP3 generators as an alternative to copper multi-wire strands.
Aluminium technology is actively being developed to help lessen the overdependence on copper, especially in cabling. At the same time, top performing turbines are being advanced and will lower the turbines needed in a single wind farm and in turn dipping copper usage, which, as has been indicated, makes up 58 per cent of cabling in wind turbines.