The energy transition is in progress!

Today, the energy transition is well in progress in the EU. Tens of GW of wind and solar PV capacity are added every year. Transmission grids are being extended. We’re investing in energy efficiency. Buildings are getting smarter. The transport fleet is electrifying. We have 11 million heat pumps in Europe. As a result, we estimate that the energy transition has already added well almost 2 million tonnes of copper in use, and is adding about 300 tonnes per year: Continue reading The energy transition is in progress!

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, bioenergy and combustion will play equal roles, leading to 250,000 furnaces and a copper demand of 500,000 tonnes.

Copper in heating appliances

A European Commission report gives numbers for the stock of conventional heating appliances in the EU that need to be replaced to have a decarbonised heating system. From this source, we can conclude that 143 million appliances need to be replaced. These include gas, oil or coal boilers as well as 25 million direct electrical heating systems.

From a Creara report commissioned by European Copper Institute in Feb 2017 (not published), we share the following table showing copper use in heating appliances.


The market will decide between various decarbonised heating solutions, and ECI takes no view which low-carbon solution should be preferred. Hence, the average copper use shared over the seven low-carbon solutions (two heat pump technologies, biomass boilers, pellet stoves, solar heating, district heating and domestic CHP) is 17 kg per appliance. This is 11 additional kilograms over the copper used in a conventional heating system of 6 kg.

To upgrade Europe’s 143 million conventional heating systems requires therefore 1.6 million tons of copper until 2050. This figure is likely to be an overestimate since alternative heat conductor materials can be used as well. In addition, buildings in Europe are getting more efficient and have lower heat demands.

Therefore, in an alternative scenario that anticipates societal trends rather than extrapolates business-as-usual, a much lower copper demand can for heating appliances be expected.