Importance of copper for energy transition


The European non-ferrous metals industry is a complex ecosystem of mining, smelting, processing, refining and recycling operations spread across the continent. It consists of more than 900 plants producing and processing base, precious and specialty metals, which employ half a million people. The industry’s annual turnover is estimated at EUR 120 billion. It is the output of the European nonferrous metals industry that makes energy transformation and the vision of a climate-neutral Europe possible.

The copper mined and produced by KGHM plays a key role in technical solutions used in renewable energy – solar, wind, water and tidal energy, as well as geothermal and biomass energy. For example, a single 3 MW wind turbine contains as much as 4.7 metric tonnes of copper and the construction of a 1 MW solar power plant requires from 3.1 to 4.5 metric tonnes of copper. Because of its properties, copper has always been the material of choice for efficient generation of electricity from photovoltaic cells. Copper is a relatively thick but soft metal, commonly used in silicon cells to reduce their brittleness while increasing throughput.

metric tonnes
amout of copper a single 3 MW wind turbine contains

After silver, which is expensive and found in much smaller quantities, copper has the highest electrical conductivity of any metal. Consequently, devices containing copper (such as motors) are much more efficient than equivalents using other metals, with energy consumption usually 20-30% lower if copper is used.

Copper cabling offers an even greater advantage, with approximately 60% more current carrying capacity than aluminium cables of the same size. Also, the thermal conductivity of copper is more than half that of aluminium. Lack of reaction with water is also of importance. All this makes copper cables easier to transport, handle, store outdoors, and much less susceptible to accidental damage or connection failures. This is complemented by
the high specific weight of copper, which makes it much easier to lay submarine cables for offshore wind energy purposes.

Outside the energy sector, copper is also a key component in electric vehicles, where it is used in batteries, steering systems and in the charging infrastructure. Electric cars, which are increasingly common, contain on average nearly four times more copper than their internal combustion engine counterparts (83 kg compared to 23 kg).

Overall, 22 million metric tonnes of copper will be needed by 2050 for the technologies facilitating a 75% reduction of EU greenhouse gas emissions . This amount is roughly the same as the current level of global metallurgical production of copper (which is slightly over 21 million tonnes ) and more than ten times greater than the current production capacity of the European Union. Clearly, the scale of demand is enormous and this situation will not be changed by the expected increase in the production capacity of mines (estimated on average at 4.9% annually) or by the continuing increase in the share of scrap metal in copper production (which becomes increasingly difficult due to the shrinking secondary resources and increasing longevity of products).

In this situation, Europe should focus on supporting its own production capacity and creating mechanisms supporting the development of copper production on the Old Continent. This will make it possible not only to reduce the continent’s record dependence on imports from other regions of the world, but will also contribute to the reduction of emissions, since the carbon footprint of domestic production is much lower than that of Asian competitors.

The products offered by the KGHM Polska Miedź S.A. Group and the transformation which is made possible by them are the main contribution of the copper industry to the struggle against climate change. KGHM also continues its efforts to reduce its own environmental footprint. Compared to the 1990 levels, the European copper industry has reduced unit energy consumption by 60%, and emissions from copper production in Europe currently represent just 0.4% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions.



*The estimate based on, among others, the EU “High-RES” scenario till 2050 and the EU Energy Roadmap 2050,


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