Estimation of the EU electricity system capital value

Through a rough back-of-the envelope calculation we estimated to the total capital value of the EU electricity system, including generation, transmission & distribution and end-use.

Electricity generation

The EU-28 has roughly 1000 GW installed capacity (end of 2014) [i], figure 4]

The average investment cost for generation capacity  can be calculated from the following addition: 20% natural gas at 750€/kW; 15% hard coal at 1550 €/kW; 15% nuclear at 4200 €/kW; 15% off-shore wind at 1300 €/kW, 15% hydro at 2100 €/kW, 5% lignite at 1250 €/kW, 5% PV at 1250 €/kW, 5% biomass at 2500 €/kW, and 5% oil at 2100 €/kW. [i, figure 4 and Table 1]

The total cost = 2100 B€

Installations in buildings

There are 220 million residential buildings in Europe [ii], and 75% of the buildings are residential [iii].

So in total there are around 300 million buildings, with each an electrical installation.

A very rough estimation of 300 million installations at 4000 €/installation = 1200 B€

Transmission and distribution networks

The cost of the US transmission and distribution grid was estimated at 2100 B$. [[iv]]

There are 508 million inhabitants in the EU28 compared to 326 million in the US

2100 B$ x 508/326 inhabitants x 0.88 €/$ = 2900 B€

ICT appliances

The manufacturing of ICT appliances in the EU28 amounts to 0.0032% of the GDP, or 50 B€. [v]

The EU trade balance for ICT is 7.5 import compared to 5.4 export. [vi] and [vii]

Suppose a 10 year life-cycle for ICT appliances.

7.5/5.4 trade balance x 10 year life cycle = 700 B€

Household appliances

The manufacturing of household appliances in the EU28 amounted to 53 B€ in 2016 [viii], page 6.

Suppose a similar trade balance as for ICT appliances (7.5/5.4).

And a similar product life-cycle of 10 years.

53 B€ x 7.5/5.4 x 10 year life cycle = 700 B€

Railways and trams

The EU railway sector invested 40 B€ in 2011 [ix], page 22. Some of it is in Diesel trains, but on the other hand the trams and trolley busses are not included. Suppose a product life cycle of 25 years.

40 B$/year investments x 25 year life cycle = 1000 B€

Industrial end-use devices

A rough estimation is that industrial electrical end-use systems are worth the double from ICT and household appliances. That would be 1400 B€


Adding the figures above leads to 10,000 B€


[i] Chalmers University of Technology, Investment Requirements in the EU Electricity Sector up to 2050, May 2015

[ii] OTB Research Institute for the Built Environment, Housing statistics in the European Union, September 2010

[iii] EU Commission, EU Buildings Factsheets

[iv] The Conversation, The old, dirty, creaky US electric grid would cost $5 trillion to replace. Where should infrastructure spending go?, March 2017

[v] Eurostat, ICT Sector – value added, employment and R&D, January 2018

[vi] The World Bank, ICT goods imports

[vii] The World Bank, ICT goods exports

[viii] APPLIA, The Home Appliance Industry in Europe 2017 – 2016

[ix] Ecorys and CER, The economic footprint of the railway transport in Europe, October 2014

Copper in electric motors

The European annual motor market (all motor sizes) is 15 M units with an average copper content of 5.3 kg/unit. Annual copper use in this market is 79 ktonnes. This figure is expected to increase because of 2 drivers:

  • Increased efficiency, which in general leads to higher copper use, leading to copper use of 6.5 kg/unit (~ 20% increase)
  • Growth in the market to 20 million units per year, due to motorisation following electrification.

Hence copper use in the future EU motor market can be expected to be 130,000 tonnes per year, an increase of more than 50 ktonnes from today. Over the period 2018-2050, this leads to a an additional use of 1.5 M tonnes (50 k * 30 years). Considering that the average motor lifetime is around 15 years, and that copper in motors has an almost full collection and recycling rate, the demand for primary copper is half this amount, i.e. 750 ktonnes.

Copper needed for the electrification to trucks

According to an ECI internal study, commissioned with Fraunhofer-i4e, the following demand for copper in truck due to electrification could be expected:


Segment Unit sales in 2025 % alternative Copper needs
Small trucks 2130 k 26-40% 66 ktons
Medium trucks 111 k 20% 5 ktons
Large trucks 405 k 10% 16 ktons
Total 2646 k 87 ktons

Extrapollating these figures to a hypothetical full conversion to electromobility yields:

Segment Copper needs Mutliplication factor Maximum copper needs
Small trucks 66 ktons 2.5 165 ktons
Medium trucks 5 ktons 5.0 25 ktons
Large trucks 16 ktons 10.0 160 ktons
Total 350 ktons

There are 13 million trucks on the EU’s roads (i.e. 5 times the annual market). The maximum copper needs to electrify 100% of the truck fleet is 350 * 5 = 1750 ktons.

In practice, alternatives to electrification of goods transport will also play their part. In addition, the sharing economy may lead to less consumption, more local consumption and hence less goods transport. A realistic scenario will reduce this figure at least by half, to 875 ktons.

Industrial electrification of heat

At present, the EU industry uses 150 Mtoe/year of fossil heat through oil, coal, gas. This is equivalent to 1,800 TWh/year. If this industrial heat demand is converted to electroheating technologies, around 750,000 industrial furnaces will be needed. This leads to a new copper demand of 1.5 Mtons. This is based on the following assumptions:

  1. One furnace requires about 1.2 GWh of electricity (e.g. 400 kW for 3000 hours).
  2. Switching to electricity reduces final energy consumption by a factor 2.
  3. 2 tons of copper per furnace for the furnace, its power supply and cabling.

It is highly unlikely that industry will convert from largely combustion technology to electric furnaces, even in a strongly carbon-constrained world. Green combustion using bioenergy or hydrogen will also play an important role. For the moment, we assume that electricity and green combustion will play equal roles, leading to 375,000 furnaces and a copper demand of 750,000 tonnes.

Copper in busses & charging infrastructure for busses

According to [1], there are 1.63 busses per 1000 citizens in the EU, leading to 828,000 busses for EU’s 508 million citizens. This estimate is not far from DecarbEurope’s number [2].

According to [3], copper use in electric busses is over 350 kg/unit. We assume that 2 thirds of the copper content is due to electrification, i.e. 230 kg.

Considering CAPEX parity for electric buses well before 2050 [4], we can expect the fleet to fully electrify, leading to a copper demand of 190,000 tonnes.

Bus charging stations need 224 – 369 kg per unit, leading to another demand of 185,000 – 305,000 tonnes (average 245,000 tonnes).

Hence, the total copper demand to electrify the bus fleet is 435,000 tonnes.

  1. Vehicles in the EU (EEA)
  2. 893,000 busses in circulation (DecarbEurope)
  3. Electric vehicles & copper demand (Copper Alliance)
  4. Analysis of the potential for electric buses (Copper Alliance / VUB Mobi)
  5. EN-V mobility concept (General Motors)


Copper use in electric vehicles

According to [1] in the EU 2050 scenario, electric vehicles with require 11.6 million tons of copper in the period up to 2050.

Cf [2]. a European Union of 508 million citizens with 500 cars per thousand citizens owns a car fleet of 254 million cars (2015).

Cf [3-5], car sharing and autonomous driving are expected to reduce vehicles in use by 10-90%. This is a very wide range. We will assume 30% reduction in car ownership compared to the 2015 level, i.e. 178 million cars.

Note that passenger-km with cars are still expected to increase 20% between 2015 and 2050 according to the EU reference scenario [6]. For the same mileage per car, this makes the above 30% assumption effectively a 50% reduction.

In addition, car sharing will mean a shorter lifetime for vehicles since the same number of km will be served by less cars. Under above assumptions, we can expect vehicle lifetime to decrease from 15 years to 7.5 years average, and hence end-of-life recovery of materials in vehicles becomes increasingly important.

According to [7], the additional copper demand for PHEV and BEV compared to ICE vehicles is:

  • PHEV: ~40 kg
  • BEV: ~ 60 kg

We expect however the copper use in batteries to reduce by 25% over the coming decades which would reduce above figures by respectively 5 and 10 kg. Hence, the average additional copper use per plugged vehicle would be 42.5 kg.

This leads to a copper requirement of 178 M * 42.5 = 7.6 M tonnes.


  1. Copper requirements to build a near-100% renewable electricity system in Europe
  2. Vehicle ownership in the EU (EEA)
  3. Self-driving vehicles could cut the number of cars in use by as much as 90% (EEA)
  4. Self-driving vehicles could cut US auto sales by 40% (WE Forum)
  5. Vehicles in use to reduce by 10 – 30% (Frost & Sullivan)
  6. EU reference scenario 2016 (European Commission)
  7. Electric vehicles & copper demand (Copper Alliance)

Co-products and by-products from copper mining

A total of 18 byproducts and coproducts of copper mining have been identified in [1]. For 6 elements, copper mining ensures over 50% of global production, and for 3, even more than 80%.



[1] (2014 – checked October 2018)

[2] (author page – checked October 2018)

[3] (not dated – checked October 2018)