Buildings are a major source of global carbon emissions, accounting for 28 percent of energy-related emissions in 2019 alone. These structures require smart-building design rooted in three key actions: decreasing energy demand, using efficient equipment and employing renewable energy.
Copper’s 128 uses in commercial building construction help to achieve one-third of the 420+ credits, features and provisions recognized within LEED version 4, WELL version 1 and ASHRAE 189.1.
In the U.S., 43 percent of household energy consumption comes from heating, most of which is powered by natural gas. In Europe, 31 percent of energy consumed is used for space and water heating, and the majority of this heat is generated from fossil fuels. In China, 20 percent of energy use comes from buildings, largely powered by coal, 40 percent of which comes
from space heating. Without deploying heat pumps running on renewable energy, it will be impossible to reduce carbon emissions to the level needed to keep global warming well below 2°C.
In Europe, approximately 50 percent of primary fine particulate matter emissions are related to heating, and over 400,000 premature deaths every year are linked to air pollution. In China this number is even higher with 11 percent of deaths attributable to air pollution. Coal burning heating systems in China have shortened lifespans by 5.5 years. Electrification is an
important strategy for improving air quality for cleaner air, increased productivity and a longer life.
Heat pumps provide one market-ready solution for electrification. Climate-friendly and energy-efficient, heat pumps can produce four times the amount of heat energy consumed. Up to 21kg/46lbs of copper can be found in air source heat pump evaporators, condensers, compressors, piping, connection, control and sensor cabling. District heating also provides a solution that can potentially combine different sources of energy, such as excess heat from industry or solar thermal collectors. Deploying heat pumps in district heating can help provide a link to the renewable energy sector, contributing to demand flexibility due to the increased heat storage capacity.
Water heating comprises up to 45 percent of energy consumption in new buildings. Harvesting heat from shower drains in buildings is a simple and cost-effective way to save at least 40 percent of wasted energy and carbon emissions. Installing copper heat exchange pipes and heat exchange systems provide a practical solution to capture lost heat. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. utilities choose copper for water service lines because it is reliable, recyclable, resists corrosion and prevents contaminants from permeating tube walls, keeping treated water safe. Buildings made with copper pipes can last up to 50 years. In the U.S., cities like Flint, Mich., and Washington, D.C., are replacing outdated and unsafe lead water piping with copper.
Surface (underfloor, wall, ceiling) heating (and cooling) systems operate with low water temperatures and reduce heat demand and resulting cost for the consumer. Unifying surface temperatures that emit heat through radiation reduces the need for heat generation, allowing the overall air temperature in the room to be lowered by two to three degrees without sacrificing comfort. It is estimated that each 1°C reduction in temperature results in savings of around six percent in heating costs. Using heat pumps, the system can be reversible in summer, i.e., it can be used for cooling. High-efficiency surface heating systems rely on copper tubes due to the metal’s thermal conductivity.
Industry and electricity generation are responsible for almost 40 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonizing industry and the power grid requires a rapid transition to electrification powered by renewable and zero-emission electricity.
Copper Builds Smart, Connected Grids Powered by Renewables
Governments need to incentivize the use of renewables to power the electrical grid. China leads the way in renewable energy power generation, with 29 percent of electricity powered by renewables. The EU and the U.S. both draw approximately 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.
A larger, interconnected power grid is a key step to increase renewable energy, ensure affordable energy prices and guarantee reliability.
Interconnecting electrical grids would allow regions with excess generation to send their electricity further away to keep supply and demand balanced.
Similarly, microgrids, which are localized grids that can disconnect from traditional grids to operate independently, can enable additional localized renewable energy use and alleviate grid disturbances, strengthening grid resiliency and allowing for faster system responses.
Smart grids are an emerging solution that promise to further increase effciency, reduce electricity consumption and balance the electricity supply.
A recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report shows a significant amount of copper is used in many key renewable energy technologies: off shore wind turbines need 4,000kg/8,819lb of copper per MW installed, onshore wind requires 3,000kg/6,614lb and photovoltaic panels use around 2,500kg/5,512lb per MW of capacity.
Energy Storage Provides Flexibility. Energy storage is the largest missing link to delivering a carbon-free electrical grid. By storing energy from renewables to meet future energy needs, storage can smooth electricity supply’s variability without fossil-fuel-powered backup.
Increased energy storage could result in growth in demand for copper in North America alone of 6,000 tonnes per year by 2027 with commensurate increases around the world. Copper is used in many applications to connect energy storage and generation to the electrical grid, e.g., transformers, breakers, switches, monitoring systems and inter-and intra- system wiring.
Battery energy storage systems offer incentives for renewable energy use for power operators, by delivering lower-cost, emissions-free renewable energy generation. Using periods of excess renewable generation to charge a battery can reduce renewable energy source (RES) curtailment and maximize value for developers.
Large-scale energy storage, particularly from batteries, is rapidly dropping in price as battery technology improves. According to the International Energy Agency, the world will reach 400 GW of energy storage by 2040, 220 GW of which will come from batteries.
Distributed energy storage, with smaller batteries in houses, offices or businesses, allows customers to store the power from on-site renewable generation, decreasing costs, increasing grid efficiency and improving protection from grid outages.
Other electrified technologies can combine with each other to create synergistic e ects. Electric vehicles can serve as grid storage batteries while plugged into a smart grid, creating the potential to vastly increase storage capacity and improve the efficiency off the grid.
The Need to Electrify Now. In both the U.S. and EU, the transportation sector contributes to approximately 30 percent of overall GHG emissions, with road vehicles accounting for nearly three-quarters of transportation emissions worldwide. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S., which is the second largest emitter of GHGs worldwide. Likewise, the transportation sector is one of the largest emitters in both the EU and China, which is the world’s largest emitter of GHGs.
Decarbonizing the Wider Transport Sector Through Electrification
As of 2020, there were 500,000 electric buses and 400,000 electric delivery trucks in operation. Trucks, buses and coaches represent less than 5 percent of road vehicles in the EU but generate around 25 percent of road transport carbon emissions.
Transitioning larger vehicles, such as buses and delivery trucks, to electric will offset carbon emissions. Battery electric buses require 369kg/814lbs of copper.
Electrifying public transit infrastructure would contribute to decarbonization by eliminating diesel emissions from buses and replacing emissions from individual vehicles. For a 32km/20mi round trip, taking public transport can offset an individual’s carbon emission by 4,800 pounds annually.
Electrifying the U.S. school bus fleet, which is larger than any other mass transit system in the U.S., would save more than $2,000 in fuel per bus annually and cost 60 percent less than diesel buses to operate. As a result of aggressive subsidies, China hosts the majority of the world’s electric buses, with many city centers now fully electrified.
Rail accounts for only 2 percent of transport energy use and carries 8 percent of the world’s passengers and 7 percent of freight. Building and expanding high speed rail networks can translate into significant emissions reductions if systems are energy efficient and powered by renewable energy. Motors, alternators and the wiring harness are dependent on high conductivity. Electrified railways, trams and light railways are powered through overhead copper alloy contact wires.