News and Media

Copper Is Going to Save the Future of Our Electrical Needs

For nearly 5,000 years, copper was the only metal known to man and thus had all the metal applications.

Copper was first unearthed and used by man over 10,000 years ago. A copper pendant discovered in Northern Iraq has been dated to around 8700 BC.

The earliest known artifacts were rugged hammered pieces of “native copper,” meaning copper in its purest form that was only found in ores in a few select places around the world.

By 5000 BC, the dawn of metallurgy had arisen as evidence of smelting copper oxide ores with malachite and azurite have been found.

Later on, by 3000 BC, the alloying of copper had begun, first with arsenic and then with tin leading to the rise of the Bronze Age.

For centuries to come, bronze reigned supreme for its use in all the latest technologies of the day: plows, tools, weapons, armor, and ornaments.

The economy in the use of copper and its alloys was necessitated by trade interruptions and the dawn of the Iron Age. However, copper’s efficiency in its ability to be used and reused has deemed the metal of great importance even today.

Copper is almost the only strategic mineral abundant in the United Stated, making it one of the few that isn’t solely obtainable from other countries.

However, the major source of copper in the U.S. is recycling, because it is one of the only metals that retains all its properties after recycling, one of its most valuable qualities.

When the heat and electrical conductivity of copper were discovered, the metal helped to lead mankind into the Industrial Age.

Now, copper is used in thousands of different applications, especially in the generation and transmission of electrical power.

Microgrids and smart grids are becoming increasingly relied upon as the world searches for a sustainable power source as its energy needs to continue to outgrow its current means.

As advancements in power technology continue to make electrical grids smaller, more powerful, and more efficient, one precious metal is behind it all: copper.

Professionals have examined the trends in electrical infrastructure and have published a new case study: Copper Connects Microgrids with Smart Grids.

The case study offers great insight into the latest energy technology, how it encourages renewable technology, and how copper is the glue that connects it all together.

Modern energy infrastructure is moving away from the traditional large resource-consuming electrical grids and is moving toward microgrids that make it easier to distribute power to communities, public institutions, commercial facilities, universities, and even island communities.

According to the Department of Electricity, microgrids are:

Localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. Because they are able to operate while the main grid is down, microgrids can strengthen grid resilience and help mitigate grid disturbances as well as function as a grid resource for faster system response and recovery.

Microgrids oftentimes use wind and solar energy systems, which also use copper to run efficiently. This is as opposed to traditional energy storage systems and fossil fuel-burning plants, unless their use is absolutely necessary.

Microgrids are also resilient and decrease the chances of any major electrical failures.

The Northeast Blackout of 2003 taught us that our dependency on electrical power grids is too great to risk everything on undependable systems.

Old powerlines, sweltering summer heat, overgrown trees, outdated equipment, and human error all combined for one of the largest power outages in history.

Over 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada were without power.

Nearly 15 years after the incident, it’s high time for innovation.

Zolaikha Strong, director of sustainable energy at the Copper Development Association, on the future of microgrids and the part copper has to play in it all states:

Microgrids are truly the future of power systems. They are smaller, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. The copper in these microgrids is vital to their success and will continue to be relied upon throughout the lifespan of these grids, due to its resiliency.

A successful example of a microgrid already in place is the installation at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago.

The peak electrical load of the campus is around 10 megawatts.

With this newly implemented technology, the campus can operate on an “island” setting most of the time, meaning it will not import any power from the smart grid.

A smart grid refers to a class of technology people use to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote controls and automation.

As this new type of electrical infrastructure becomes more plentiful, the technology will advance and the costs of components will drop.

The new electric grid will be built around thousands of microgrids that aren’t totally independent but can share their resources to a mutual advantage, while at the same time not becoming too vulnerable to a single control center.

One thing is clear: it’s going to take a lot of copper to make these grids operational… more than just recycling.

Of the world’s reserves of copper, about one-quarter of the deposits are economically recoverable now or in the near future.

Of this reserve base, about 198 billion pounds of recoverable copper is beneath soil in the U.S.

Each year, about 3 billion pounds are withdrawn from the earth as U.S. mine production.

Interestingly enough, although copper is continuously mined and put into use, the estimated U.S. reserve base has stayed relatively constant in recent years.

It has increased drastically from estimates made back in 1952 as new deposits have been found and, even more importantly, because better extraction techniques have allowed leaner deposits to be added to the reserve base.

There is every reason to believe that these dynamics will continue well into the 21st century.

With secure sources of copper and the increasing demand for the reusable metal rising even higher, the future of decentralized, reliable, and energy efficient power sources from microgrids and smart grids is certain.

Who would have thought that the abundant metal found in hammered blades from thousands of years ago would have led us to such independence?

That’s for now.

Until next time,

John Peterson
Pro Trader Today