A new analysis has predicted that over 780 GW of wind capacity will be installed by 2028 and this will consume in excess of 5.5 million tonnes of copper
A new analysis has predicted that over 650 GW of new onshore and 130 GW of new offshore wind capacity will be installed between 2018 and 2028. This additional wind capacity is predicted to consume in excess of 5.5 million tonnes (Mt) of copper.
Henry Salisbury, a research analyst at Wood Mackenzie which conducted the analysis, said that wind technology is the most copper-intensive form of power generation and that it is anticipated to consume the largest amount of copper over the next ten years in this sector.
“Governments have set out to transition from a dependency on carbon emission-intensive power to more renewable energy sources. As a result, wind and solar energy sources have become a popular technology choice. In order to generate, transmit and distribute the energy, copper is required due to its low electrical resistivity, high conductivity, malleability and durability. As a result of the intensity of copper within wind farm projects and the increasing demand for wind energy, consumption of copper is substantial and forecast to grow significantly over the next decade,” Salisbury said.
Within a wind turbine, copper is consumed in the generator, power transformers, gearbox and tower cabling. Onshore turbines are connected through collector cables, which are linked to a substation before joining the electrical and transmission network. Offshore turbines are connected through collector cables to an offshore substation. Distribution cables connect the offshore substation to a terrestrial substation ahead of connection to the transmission network.
“Approximately 58 percent of copper consumed within wind installations is through cabling. Considering our current forecasts for new wind turbine installations between 2018 and 2028, over 3 Mt of copper will be consumed in both collector and distribution cabling,” added Salisbury.
According to the analysis, the global wind technologies are expected to require an average of 450 ktpa of copper per year between 2018 and 2022, before increasing to 600 ktpa per annum out to 2028. Of this, China is forecast to see the strongest growth in new onshore capacity, consuming an average of 110 ktpa copper pear year to 2028. Followed by the US, which will average 35 ktpa copper each year through 2028
The U.K., the Netherlands and Germany will lead offshore installation in the largest market; Europe. This is forecast to consume an average of 80 ktpa per year between 2018 and 2028.
“Due to higher copper intensity, offshore turbines will command an increasing share of copper consumption. The progressive development of larger wind turbines will increase copper intensities, providing an upside risk to copper consumption in the longer-term beyond 2024,” said Salisbury.
Higher copper prices have driven some manufacturers towards considering, and in some cases introducing, alternate materials in some wind turbine components. In cables, aluminium is lighter and cheaper, however, requires more maintenance and needs a 50 percent larger cross-sectional area than copper cables to achieve similar levels of electrical resistivity and conductivity. In generators, manufacturers are reluctant to wholly commit to alternative materials until quality and reliability is guaranteed. “Enercon have begun introducing EP3 generators with aluminium form-wound coils instead of multi-strand copper wires.
“Further developments in aluminium technology could lead to an increased substitution of copper in cabling above our current expectations. Additionally, the future introduction of higher output turbines may reduce the number of turbines per wind farm. Considering that cabling constitutes 58 percent of copper intensity, this scenario could reduce copper intensity and, therefore, consumption in the future,” concluded Salisbury.