Copper Opportunities In Solar Energy Market
With the growth rate of the solar energy market expected to increase by double-digits over the next decade, so too will the demand for copper which is needed to power and ground cabling for these installations, said Zolaikha Strong, director of sustainable energy for the Copper Development Association (CDA), at the National Solar Conference (SOLAR 2014) recently.
SOLAR 2014, America’s longest running solar conference series, was held in San Francisco, July 6- 10. The program, presented by the American Solar Energy Society in conjunction with Intersolar North America, offered industry leaders, policy makers, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and service providers a variety of presentations and discussions covering the most relevant topics in the U.S. renewable energy industries.
Strong’s presentation titled, “Estimated Copper Demand from Projected Solar Electric Generating Capacity,” highlighted key findings from a market study commissioned by CDA. The study, conducted by BBF Associates & Konrad J.A. Kundig, Ph.D., evaluated the nation’s growing energy demand and the opportunities it presents for communities installing solar voltaic and wind turbines, particularly the demand for copper.
Global investments in renewable energy are strong and continue to grow. Projections for solar power are expected to see double digit growth over the next 10 years, from $91 billion in 2013 to an estimated $158 billion by 2023.
“Investments in solar power have already outpaced that of wind energy and are projected to continue growing into 2023, even with changes in pricing,” Strong said.
Copper usage intensity is four to six times higher for renewables compared to fossil fuels or nuclear, according to the CDA study, showing the clear demand for copper in the renewable market.
“Solar panels over large scale areas require installing miles of copper grounding and copper centric power cables,” Strong states. “By 2020, we estimate that 150 to 410 million lbs. of copper will be used in these systems.”
Both traditional and newer systems for producing solar energy use copper extensively. Thermal solar energy, which has been used for a years to generate electricity, is produced when sunlight is focused in a pressure vessel and moves to a boiler to generate steam. The steam powers a conventional turbine in three forms. In the past, traditional systems use copper in older generators, transformers and grounding systems; while now newer ones have added electrical and control systems needed for tracking drive motors, the usage of copper is still integral in newer systems which require copper grounding systems, she said.
Given that old and new means of solar energy production have a need for copper, the potential market size for renewables shows the estimated copper demand ranging from 16.2 to 46.3 million pounds of copper, Strong added.
Strong has worked in the energy industry for more than 10 years, and is an expert in regulatory and legislative policy initiatives that impact the electricity sector in the areas of transmission planning, energy efficiency technologies, smart grid, renewables and energy storage. Strong has been featured in various trade publications and has been interviewed by NBC as a participant in the “Energy 2030 On the Road” campaign.
Information provided by the Copper Development Association