2018 was a great year for clean energy and mobility. To give a few examples: Countries agreed on an implementation plan for the Paris Agreement at COP24. The EU launched initiatives to develop a European supply chain for batteries. The United States was awarded about $35 million for research and innovation that would significantly reduce building energy consumption.[1]

As we look forward to 2019, the copper industry will be watching these top key trends.

1. Rise of electric SUVs

Source: BMW Concept iX3

Until recently, pure electric vehicles have consisted mostly of small cars or hatchback models, but with the introduction of the Tesla Model X, vehicle manufacturers are creating larger family cars with the benefits of EV technology. With manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Volvo following suit, announcing their plans to release at least four new electric SUVs, 2019 is expected to be the year of the electric SUV.[2]

Additional—and larger—EVs mean a greater demand for copper, as copper usage in EVs is dependent on battery size. Compared to an EV car, electric SUVs require a maximum of 100 kg (220.5 lbs.) per vehicle. With global copper demand expected to reach $172 billion by 2023—EVs are predicted to need an additional 600,000 tonnes of copper.

Government regulatory support and public investment in related technologies is key to EV growth. We have seen this trend in Latin America, where countries like Chile continue to invest in technologies supporting copper and EVs. Significant incentives and mandates by China’s governing National People’s Congress continue to further propel China as the leader in energy-saving and green-vehicle technology. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that, in 2017, close to 400,000 electric buses were operating around the world—99 percent of which were in China.[3] Furthermore, the report estimates China adds about 9,500 EV buses every five weeks—the size of London’s entire bus fleet.

With public-private partnerships, government regulatory support and consumer demand, 2019 is the perfect climate for electric SUVs to be produced and sold at record numbers.

2. Global electrification

According to the World Energy Outlook, growing electrification means electricity is expanding to sectors previously confined to fossil fuels, including vehicles and heating and cooling systems.[4] Countries continue to pivot away from conventional energy sources, supported by massive private sector investment into low-carbon energy. 2018 marked the fifth consecutive year clean-energy investment exceeded $300 billion.[5] 2019 is expected to be close to reaching $300 billion for the sixth successive year. However, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that economic and political troubles during 2019 may influence the flow of investment in low-carbon energy, but it will not halt its progress for cities and communities globally.

China remains at the heart of this energy revolution as the world’s largest producer, consumer and investor in renewable energy. The country is upgrading its capacities in renewable energy production and consumption and accounts for 36 percent of all renewable energy growth worldwide.[6] During the first half of 2018, China’s hydro, nuclear, wind, solar and other nonfossil energy systems generated more than 25 percent of its overall power supply. China will remain a leader in electrification in 2019 as its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan prioritizes renewable energy development.

The best part of growing electrification is that the technology already exists. For example, highly efficient heat pumps transfer heat from one space to another, achieving efficiencies of well over 100 percent.[7] A report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory forecasts that more than 170 million heat pumps will provide space heating and cooling in homes by mid-century.[8] Heading into 2019, utility programs are expected to increase their focus on accelerating the adoption of heat pumps for both water and space heating/cooling.

In 2019, the copper industry will be monitoring proper investment initiatives to finance on-the-ground activities in developing countries of critical importance, as they represent one-billion new electricity consumers by 2030.[9] Since the technology already exists, assisting these countries and their growing middle class will ensure a low-carbon and sustainable solution.

3. Mainstreaming of supply chain sustainability

Sustainable production is becoming more prominent in the minds of consumers. 2019 is shaping up to be the year for accountability. Most major companies listed on CAC 40, FTSE100, Dow Jones and other major exchanges already have comprehensive sustainability reporting systems in place. However, expectations for these companies go beyond annual reports and investment portfolios.

Consumer electronic companies, auto manufacturers and major retailers, among others, are going green through their certified sourcing programs and are working increasingly close to their supply chains to help achieve sustainability goals. Walmart pioneered much of this work over a decade ago, with its successful pledge in 2005 to reduce its fuel footprint by doubling fleet efficiency by 2015, and its 2007 agreement with suppliers such as Proctor & Gamble to start selling smaller and more efficient products. In 2019 we may see a new level of mainstreaming this value-chain thinking.

For the ninth-year running, global mining company, Teck Resources, has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. Teck is putting its approach to sustainable mining into action near Pica, in the Tarapacá region of northern Chile. During Phase 1 of the Quebrada Blanca project (QB1), Teck committed to increasing its renewable energy use to 100 megawatts (MW) by 2030 to reduce its carbon footprint. In Phase 1, Teck partnered with AES Gener S.A., a top Chilean electricity producer, to develop a power plant with a unique design to utilize solar, wind, hydro and biomass and a 21 MW capacity delivering a full 55-gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. As Teck extends this work in to Phase 2 (QB2), the solar plant will be instrumental to helping the company reach its goals and enhance the sustainability of the supply chain.

Conclusion

2019 presents major opportunities for clean energy and the copper industry. Copper has a key role to play in the development and rollout of new technologies leading to a more sustainable economy, such as EVs and global electrification. With outstanding conductivity, copper significantly enhances the efficiency of electrification, making it an indispensable component in developing renewable energy. The copper industry is also at the forefront of the move to more responsible supply chains and recycling. This shift is relevant for all downstream businesses and consumers who are reliant on copper every time they use an iPhone. We are excited for the challenges 2019 brings and for copper to be part of the solution.

[1] Department of Energy Announces $34 Million for Innovation Building Technologies Research and Development. (2018, April 27). Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/articles/department-energy-announces-34-million-innovation-building-technologies-research-and

[2] Evarts, E. C. (2018, July 03). 2019 is the year of the electric SUV. Retrieved from https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1117536_2019-is-the-year-of-the-electric-suv

[3] Electric Vehicle Outlook 2018 | Bloomberg New Energy Finance. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://about.bnef.com/electric-vehicle-outlook/

[4] World Energy Outlook 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://webstore.iea.org/world-energy-outlook-2017

[5] Clean Energy Investment Exceeded $300 Billion Once Again in 2018. (2019, January 16). Retrieved from https://about.bnef.com/blog/clean-energy-investment-exceeded-300-billion-2018/

[6] PNN.com (2018, July 31). “China Leads the World in Renewable Energy Consumption.” Retrieved from http://www.cpnn.com.cn/xny/201807/t20180731_1082473.html

[7] Heat Pump Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-systems

[8] Gerdes, J. (2018, July 30). ‘Electrification of Everything’ Would Spike US Electricity Use, but Lower Final Energy Consumption. Retrieved from https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/widespread-electrification-could-increase-u-s-electricity-consumption

[9] World Population Prospects – Population Division. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2017_KeyFindings.pdf