Surging Copper Demand Will Complicate the Clean Energy Boom

Copper is one of the essential elements of today’s economy, and tomorrow’s. It’s in the turbines and solar modules that generate electrons, the transmission and distribution lines that carry electricity to consumers, the home wiring that delivers it to dishwashers and iPhones, and the motors that move everything from elevators to electric bicycles.

I think of copper as a common carrier, so to speak, of decarbonization. It is literally the wiring that connects the present to the future.

Energy research firm BloombergNEF recently published its first global copper outlook, factoring in demand from the technological changes needed to wean the economy off fossil fuels. Its topline finding is striking: Copper demand will increase by more than 50% between now and 2040.

Demand for copper relating to energy transition activities — clean power and electrified transport, and the infrastructure supporting them — will grow about 4% per year between now and 2040. Demand arising from traditional sources like construction and manufacturing of heating and cooling equipment will grow only 1.5% per year over the same period.