The global clean energy transition is heavily dependent on the supply of copper, a critical mineral used in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, EV batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and power grids. However, recent reports indicate that there is a significant shortfall between the rapidly growing demand for copper and the ability of mining companies to keep up. This shortage not only poses a threat to clean energy growth but also hampers the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. To address this issue, solutions include improving existing mining operations, developing new extraction technologies, and increasing recycling efforts. However, investment and decision-making on new extraction projects are crucial to meeting future demand.
Copper customers are already feeling the effects of potential shortages, causing delays in clean energy projects and reduction in copper usage. Both engineering innovations and political factors contribute to copper demand destruction. For example, higher costs for materials and supply chain issues have slowed the growth of offshore wind projects, and some EV makers are finding ways to reduce the amount of copper used in their vehicles and batteries. Political movements, such as the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 and the actions of the UK Prime Minister, could also lead to a decrease in demand for copper by dismantling clean energy projects and delaying the transition to electric vehicles.
Despite the current lack of copper production and investment in new mining projects, experts believe that the demand for copper in the energy transition is inevitable. The long lead time for establishing new mining projects and the need for de-risking balance sheets are challenges that mining companies face in meeting demand. However, companies are focusing on maximizing the output of existing assets through investments in technology and automation. Leaching technology allows for the recovery of copper from low-grade deposits, and recycling efforts are expected to increase as clean energy components reach their end of life. Ultimately, despite the potential shortage, copper remains a necessity for powering the future and achieving the goals of the clean energy transition.