Copper Usage Intensity Higher for Renewable Energy Compared to Fossil Fuels, according to New Study
New York, N.Y. — The generation of electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal uses copper. So copper intensity, typically four to six times higher than any other fossil fuel. That’s according to a new market study titled, Current and Projected Wind and Solar Renewable Electric Generating Capacity and Resulting Copper Demand. It was conducted by BBF Associates & Konrad J.A. Kundig, Ph.D.. Also commissioned by the Copper Development Association (CDA).
“Copper Usage Intensity” is an estimate of the pounds of copper necessary to install one megawatt. One megawatt of new power generating capacity. Estimates of copper usage per megawatt are reported by the study as follows:
- Approximately 21,000 pounds for offshore wind energy
- 5,600 to 14,900 pounds for land-based wind energy
- 5,400 to 15,400 pounds for photovoltaic (PV) solar installations
Copper Usage Greater Due to Size of Installations
Other important contributors to copper intensity include magnet wire for generators. Also transformers, DLO cables, control and communication cables, and bus bar for switchgear.
Offshore Wind Farms Offer Growing Opportunity
The potential is great and plans are in place for Massachusetts. As well as Maine, New Jersey and Ohio. Estimates of copper usage intensity for offshore wind are based on experiences in the United Kingdom. Offshore wind energy represents a huge opportunity for copper. That’s because of submarine collector and transmission cables. They are normally 100-percent copper. All consequently due to the fact that copper does not promote the growth of corrosive barnacles. That’s because of its natural anti-fouling properties.
Photovoltaic (PV) copper usage is linearly scalable. Scalable because the copper between individual solar panels is relatively constant. Parabolic-mirror, thermal solar uses less copper since it is a nonelectrical, fluid-based system. However, motor-driven tracking devices could use 8,800 pounds of copper per megawatt. Tower-type thermal solar power plants (which use mirrors to direct concentrated sunlight onto an elevated boiler) require robust grounding for lightning protection. As well as mirror tracking systems.
For geothermal, which is not limited to suitable geologic sites. Especially copper is used in traditional turbine-generators. Also step-up transformers and the grounding system. That’s just as in fossil-fired plants. Imagine home based geothermal systems like Dandelion.
According to Strong, copper is an “enabling element.” That’s because it allows for the collection of electrical energy. All from broadly dispersed energy sources while minimizing electrical losses.
Noteworthy Statistics and Facts
US wind-energy is at 40 GW (May 2011) ranks third globally.
Globally, wind energy is at 200 GW as of 2010.
PV solar at 2.6 GW in 2010.
PV growing at 60-70% CAGR in its residential and commercial sectors.
Utility-scale PV installations quadrupled since 2008.
Utility-scale thermal solar energy plants were installed in the Southwest and Florida.