Analysis by Wood Mackenzie suggests the global wind turbine fleet will consume more than 5.5M tonnes of copper by 2028 and that offshore turbines will require a growing proportion
More than 650 GW of new onshore and 130 GW of new offshore wind capacity will be installed between 2018 and 2028. This will consume in excess of 5.5M tonnes of copper, according to Wood Mackenzie.
Wood Mackenzie research analyst Henry Salisbury said, “Wind technology is the most copper-intensive form of power generation and is anticipated to consume the largest amount of copper over the next 10 years.
“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 in windfarm projects and the increasing demand for wind energy, consumption of copper is substantial and forecast to grow significantly over the next decade.” Concern has been expressed about the effect that demand for copper for wind energy and other new technologies might have on prices.
In a wind turbine, copper is used 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 via cables to an offshore substation, both of which require copper. Export cables connect the offshore substation to a substation onshore, for connection to the transmission network.
“Approximately 58% of copper consumed in wind installations is through cabling. Considering our current forecasts for new wind turbine installations between 2018 and 2028, over more than 3M tonnes of copper will be consumed in both collector and distribution cabling,” said Mr Salisbury.
Wood Mackenzie estimates that global wind technology is expected to require an average of 450,000 tonnes per annum (ktpa) of copper per year between 2018 and 2022, before increasing to 600 ktpa out to 2028.
“China is forecast to see the strongest growth in new onshore capacity, consuming an average of 110 ktpa of copper to 2028,” said Mr Salisbury. “This is followed by the US, which will average 35 ktpa copper through 2028.
“The UK, the Netherlands and Germany will lead offshore installation in the largest market, Europe. This is forecast to consume an average of 80 ktpa between 2018 and 2028.
“Due to higher copper intensity, offshore turbines will command an increasing share of copper consumption. Progressive development of larger wind turbines will increase copper intensities, providing an upside risk to copper consumption in the longer-term beyond 2024,” said Mr 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% 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 has begun introducing EP3 generators with aluminium form-wound coils instead of multi-strand copper wires,” Mr Salisbury explained.
“Further developments in aluminium technology could lead to increased substitution of copper in cabling above our current expectations.
“Additionally, future introduction of higher output turbines may reduce the number of turbines per windfarm. Considering that cabling constitutes 58% of copper intensity, this scenario could reduce copper intensity and, therefore, consumption in future.”