How Lack of Copper Could Slow the Energy Transition – by James Attwood (Washington Post/Bloomberg – June 1, 2023)

Avoiding a climate catastrophe is often portrayed as a question of political will. Yet the push to reduce carbon emissions is also a daunting technical challenge. Retooling power and transportation systems to run on renewable energy will require far more copper than the companies able to produce it are currently equipped to deliver.

The question is whether a traditionally cautious mining industry will embrace the scale of investment needed to rewire the world. Failure would throw the transition to cleaner power sources off course.

1. Why is copper so important?

Copper is the most conductive metal after silver. While it’s expensive, using cheaper alternatives like aluminum means compromising on efficiency. You can find copper in products as varied as toasters, air conditioners and microchips. There are about 65 pounds (29 kilograms) of it in the average car and more than 400 pounds in the typical home.

Millions of feet of copper wiring are needed to build the more complex grids that can handle electricity produced by decentralized renewable sources and balance out their intermittent supplies. Solar and wind farms, often spread out over large areas, require more copper per unit of power produced than do centralized coal- and gas-fired power stations.

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