In another story in this section, we commented about the copper needs for the EU energy transition, proposing 22 million tonnes of copper cumulatively for the period of 2020-2050 to complete the European energy transition. This figure covers 11 technologies such as renewable electricity generation, electricity grids, smart buildings and a variety of end-use technologies. For a global energy transition, about ten times this amount would be required, i.e. ~ 220 million tonnes.
Manberger provides another reference for the same question, estimating a need of 130 - 168 million tonnes, depending on the recycling scenario. This paper includes 8 technologies: 2 renewable power generation technologies (wind and PV), renewable heating & cooling, electric vehicles, electric bikes and busses. Compared to the first scenario, Manberger doesn't include grids, smart buildings or industry decarbonisation.
In its Critical Minerals Data Explorer, IEA estimates a copper need of 450 Mt million tonnes, which is to a very large extent driven by electricity networks, but this higher number does not provide an estimate for copper demand in buildings.
Considering the wide variation of these numbers, the question in the title is impossible to answer. First, we cannot clearly identify which copper demand is energy-transition related. And for the technologies where we can, such as mobility, heat pumps and renewables, rapid evolution of technology is taking place. The role of substitution and recycling is yet another known unknown.
Månberger, André, and Björn Stenqvist. 2018. “Global Metal Flows in the Renewable Energy Transition: Exploring the Effects of Substitutes, Technological Mix and Development.” Energy Policy 119 (August): 226–41.
IEA. 2023. "Critical Minerals Data Explorer". https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tools/critical-minerals-data-explorer (accessed September 1, 2023)
Last update: September 1, 2023