2017 has been quite the year for the copper industry around the world. As we look forward to 2018, we will be watching these top five key industry trends.
1. Electric Vehicle Market Drives Copper Demand
With several new electric vehicle (EV) cars hitting the market, 2018 may be the tipping point for EVs.
Ten countries are leading the way and hosting 95% of the EV market. In order of market share, these world leaders are China, the U.S., Norway, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada. Thanks to improvements in technology, affordability, and the deployment of more electric chargers, one in every six cars are expected to be electric by 2025.
EV technology is heavily reliant on copper, and copper demand for EVs is expected to increase from 185,000 tonnes in 2017, to 1.74 million tonnes in 2027. EV manufacturing requires copper for multiple key components, such as batteries, motors, charging stations, and supporting infrastructures.
The more advanced the EV technology becomes, the more copper is required. Internal combustion engines typically use 23 kg of copper, while hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) use 40 kg of copper, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) use 60 kg of copper, and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) use 83 kg of copper!
2. Burgeoning Water Crisis
The global water crisis affects people all over the world. Some areas face droughts, others flood, and many communities lack access to clean and drinkable water. These problems are worsening due to increased demand, the growing effects of climate change, and a lack of efficient water infrastructure. In many areas affected by the crisis, the complex system of pipes, treatment plants, and sewer systems required to transport, treat, and discharge water is in poor condition or entirely non-existent.
As water resources and natural water infrastructure continue to be depleted, it is becoming that much more important to find a viable solution. This is where copper comes in. As a durable, reliable, and long-lasting metal, copper is particularly useful in the construction of water pipe infrastructure. It is also impermeable and prevents contaminants such as petroleum, insecticides, and fertilizers from polluting the water system. Unlike lead, copper is also corrosion-resistant, and is a necessary nutrient for human life and development.
Many cities across the United States and Canada are already beginning the process of replacing lead pipes with copper ones. The success of copper water infrastructure in places like Toronto, Montreal, Milwaukee, and Flint, Michigan is proof that this valuable metal can help bring clean water resources to communities in need around the world.
3. The Future is Electric
According to the recently published World Energy Outlook 2017 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), growing electrification implies that electricity is going to sectors previously confined to fuels, including vehicles, heating and cooling systems.
The global demand for electricity is set to grow as rising incomes enable millions of households to use electrical appliances and cooling systems. Progress in India and Indonesia has been particularly impressive, and in sub-Saharan Africa electrification efforts outpaced population growth for the first time in 2014.
Electricity requires a great deal of copper for production, distribution, and transmission. Copper is an excellent electrical conductor and operates well at higher temperatures to help electrical systems connect to the larger grid.
4. Renewable Energy Gains Momentum
Global electricity generation from wind and solar was 23 percent in 2015, and thanks to increases in wind- and solar-generating capacity, that number is expected to grow to 30 percent by 2020.
A strong appetite for renewable energy sources remains at the global level. From wind turbines to solar panels, copper is a critical component of renewable energy technologies.
Wind turbines use copper for grounding wires, power cables, transformers, inverters, lightning protection, and as part of generators and control systems. A single wind farm can contain 4–15 million pounds of copper!
Copper is also a key component of solar energy systems, increasing the efficiency, reliability, and performance of photovoltaic cells and modules. Copper’s superior electrical and thermal conductivity are vital in the collection, storage, and distribution of solar energy.
5. Rise of Resilient Buildings
The global building sector currently makes up around 30 percent of final energy use, and its energy savings potential is significant.
As the demand for more sustainable building options increases, green construction has become increasingly profitable and desirable within the global construction market.
China is making particularly strong efforts to increase building sustainability. As part of the country’s thirteenth “Five Year Plan for Building Energy Efficiency and Green Building Development,” 50 percent of all new urban buildings will be required to be certified green buildings. Already over 90 percent of China's commercial building owners plan to have at least one net-zero or near-net-zero energy building in the next ten years.
The European Union also continues its efforts in this field. Reducing the energy demand of buildings is critical to delivering on the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and is a key focus in the Clean Energy Package.
The applications of copper in building construction are nearly endless. Some of the uses include roof and wall cladding, flashing, gutters and downspouts, wiring, plumbing, heating systems, ventilation, and design elements.
Copper is highly durable and does not need to be replaced over the life of the building. Other benefits to copper as a building material include corrosion- and oxidation-resistance, low maintenance costs, lightweight, and antimicrobial properties.