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Electric Vehicles drive copper price and theft to new heights

A recent report from the US National Insurance Crime Bureau (NIBC) states that 28,040 metal theft claims were processed from 2014 through 2016, with over 98 percent of these instances relating to copper.

The NICB report also confirms what the industry has suspected for some time – “When the number of metal theft claims and copper prices are compared, a statistically significant positive correlation was found to exist.”

Ohio is the metal theft capital of the United States with 3,060 metal theft claims. Other states in the top five were New Jersey (2,661), Pennsylvania (2,435), New York (2,005) and Illinois (1,448). However, anecdotal evidence suggests this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the majority of thefts are not ever claimed or reported.

Substation Safety

For utility companies, the safe operation of electricity distribution infrastructure is paramount, and the theft of copper jeopardizes the safety of utility employees and the public, not to mention the thieves themselves; and all for a few bucks in scrap metal cost. Metal plays a vital part in the Electricity transmission and distribution system. One wrong cut of copper on a substation can cause a grounded component to become energized at thousands of volts, leading to death or severe injury, potential supply outages and damage to expensive equipment that customers ultimately pay for.

Demand for Copper

Last year saw the price of copper surge 40 percent to its highest level in four years. According to Bloomberg, COMEX copper prices reached their highest peak of $3.69 per pound on 4th January 2013. Now, after a short dip they are again rising to similar levels, closing at $3.23 a pound on 5th January 2018. According to analysis from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, global economic growth and demand from China in particular, means that copper will continue to remain in high demand and at a high price. In addition, the seemingly unstoppable move towards electric vehicles (EV’s) and increased investment in renewable energy will create significant further demand.

Electric Vehicles

Take autos; according to the Financial Times, today’s conventional internal combustion engine cars contain about 20kg of copper. Hybrids use about 40kg and an average pure battery powered electric car requires about 80kg – four times the amount used in a conventional vehicle. Building the EV fleet will use about 11m tonnes of copper. Subtract the amount that would have been used in the conventional vehicles ‘displaced’ by EVs, and that still results in about 8.5m tonnes of genuine new demand, equivalent to more than a third of total global copper demand today. Such additional demand can only drive copper prices up to new highs over the next few years.

Cresatech CuTS®

To combat the growing risk and ensure electricity substation safety and they are kept operational, utility companies are increasingly investing in monitoring the critical copper grounding infrastructure. Cresatech’s low cost CuTS® solution permanently and automatically monitors metal grounding and transformer neutrals on electricity substations for integrity, alerting in real time for disconnection, theft or damage.

If you want to learn more, meet Cresatech at the CEATI conference March 6th to 7th in Tucson http://www.ceati.com/SPRING2018/

or contact Cresatech directly at any time.


Scott Brooks's picture
Scott Brooks

I would like to have an EV for local convenience but would reconsider if it became to expensive due to copper prices, electricity prices, and Lithium prices; all impacted by EVs. A Hybrid where the motor is the sole drivetrain motivator works out to be a nice compromise.