Do you know how many jobs wind creates every year? Probably not, but the answer may surprise you.

Eleven million people around the world were employed by the renewable energy sector in 2018, 1.2 million of which were in wind energy alone:

Source: U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2017

Wind energy has many obvious, and not-so-obvious advantages:

Wind is unlimited and non polluting.

Turbines are getting smarter. Digitally connected sensors and AI-driven software means turbines can anticipate and react to changing conditions, predict component longevity, and communicate with remote data centers or the grid. 

Corporations are buying clean power. Google and Facebook lead the market and have committed to 100% clean energy by 2020. Facebook recently signed for more than 3 GW of new wind and solar energy.

Wind supports farmers.  Wind provides an advantage for farmers and ranchers who volunteer small portions of their land for turbine placement in exchange for lease payments that total some $267 million a year, says the American Wind Energy Association. 

 

It is no wonder that wind energy has become one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world. Renewable energy advocates believe the world should use renewable energy sources like wind to generate power and stop using fossil fuels like coal for our energy needs. Many of these same people also oppose mining. There’s only one problem though: Windmills use an enormous amount of copper, among other metals: 

Wind power uses more copper than conventional forms of energy, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. Conventional power plants require about one ton of copper to produce one megawatt of electricity, whereas wind and solar power can require between three to five tons per megawatt. Copper is needed at each step of the process in order to convert wind into electricity:

  • In the generator to help convert the wind’s energy into electricity, which is then transmitted through copper cables down to the base of the turbine tower
  • To pass the electricity from each turbine transformer to a common collector
  • To ground wind turbines from lightning strikes

A single wind farm can contain between 4 million and 15 million pounds of copper! And these numbers only reflect the amount of copper needed to build wind turbines. Add on the amounts of copper needed to transport the electricity generated from wind facilities to the population and you will soon realize we will be needed a lot more copper in the next decades as more countries turn to wind power. 

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) noted last year (2018) that seven states in the US are near doubling their capacity to generate electricity from the wind:

 

IS THERE ENOUGH COPPER TO SATISFY WORLD DEMAND?

While the copper industry’s significant recycling rate and potential for even more recycling are impressive, recycling alone will not be enough to meet future world demand and ensure a stable supply of copper, therefore, continued mining for new copper will be needed.

According to the International Copper Association, there is enough copper to meet current, and future demand, but using copper to meet this demand needs to be done smartly and efficiently. As stated on their website, “… investment by industry will be required, as will political certainty and stability. The copper industry is already investing significantly in innovation and sustainable solutions.On average, the members of the Copper Alliance® invest a combined $20 billion a year to improve their contribution to sustainable development in areas such as protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of their operations. This alone, however, is not enough. Although it is true that industry can, and should, do more to ensure copper is extracted, used and recycled in a sustainable way, there also needs to be political stability and a regulatory environment favorable for such investment.”

 

 

References:

  1. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-coppers-role-in-the-transition-to-clean-energy/
  2. https://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1281864/soaring-copper-prices-drive-wind-farm-crime
  3. https://www.windpowerengineering.com/business-news-projects/the-rise-of-wind-power-what-to-expect-in-2019/
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalieparletta/2019/06/17/11-million-people-now-have-jobs-in-renewable-energy/#7cc4971117de