Energy and Renewables

Copper is among the best conductors of electricity and heat, so it is hardly surprising that about 60% of total copper use is for these applications.
Copper is among the best conductors of electricity and heat

Electricity and Energy

Weight for weight, outside precious metals, copper is the best conductor of electricity and heat. It is hardly surprising, then, that about 60% of total copper use is for these applications.

Copper is used in high, medium and low voltage power networks, and copper conductivity is considered to be the standard by which other conductors are measured.

Blister copper is 96-99% pure, but there is a way to purify it further, through a technique called electrolysis. The unique combination of strength, ductility and resistance to creep and corrosion establishes this non-ferrous metal as the preferred and safest conductor for wiring in buildings. As an essential component of energy-efficient motors and transformers, it is used in a multiplicity of applications in manufacturing industries, all forms of transport and the domestic environment.

Wire and Cables

Copper's conductivity is almost twice that of aluminium, which makes copper the material of choice for high energy efficiency applications.

Copper wire has long been the preferred conductor material in the majority of cables used for power and telecommunications. Having high conductivity combined with ductility that makes it easy to draw down to close-tolerance diameters, it can also be readily soldered to make economic, durable connections. It is compatible with all modern insulation materials, but its good oxidation resistance means that it can also be used without any surface protection.

Insulation can be of lacquer or enamel types used for winding wires or of polymers for energy cables. Lacquers permit close spacing of windings to give the best efficiency in the coils of motors, transformers and chokes.

Busbars

Busbars are robust conductors that function as electrical manifolds to distribute power from a single source to several users. Because of its good conductivity, strength, connectivity, ductility and resistance to oxidation, copper is the most obvious material to specify for the manufacture of busbars. High conductivity copper billets are hot extruded into a regular cross section, followed by drawing down to the necessary finished size.

Transformer and Motor Windings

Copper used for the manufacture of transformer windings is in the form of wire for small products and strip for larger equipment. For small products, such as magnet wire, the wire must be strong enough to be wound without breakage, yet flexible enough to give close-packed windings. Strip products must be of good surface quality so that insulating enamels do not break down under voltage. Good ductility is essential for the strip to be formed and packed, and good strength is needed to withstand the high electro-mechanical stresses set up under occasional short-circuit conditions. The properties needed for motor windings are similar to those needed for transformers, but with the additional requirement to withstand mechanical vibration and centrifugal forces at working temperatures.

Electronic Equipment

While this sector is relatively small in terms of tonnage, copper plays a vital role in a number of small, high-tech applications. Copper or copper-base alloys are used in Printed Circuit Boards, in electronic connectors and lead-frames. In addition, it has long been used in the area of telecommunications, and is now increasingly used in IT, notably for the manufacture of microchips and in semi-conductor applications. Copper heat sinks allow dispersion of heat from high-frequency microprocessor and logic devices.

Other Electrical Engineering Uses

Copper is also used for manufacturing commutators, welding electrodes, contacts, contact springs, high vacuum and other electronic devices.

Heat Exchangers

Thanks to its thermal conductivity, copper is an ideal material for the manufacture of all types of heat exchangers. It is easily fabricated and joined, and has excellent corrosion resistance. There are many different ways copper is used in heating and cooling applications. Copper can be used as a bulk material to radiate heat, as a pipe to transfer refrigerants, as a surface to collect the suns energy. It can be used as a heat pipe or part of a heat pump, as a fin material to transfer energy to and from the air or as a conductor of heat from one material to another. Simple or complex geometries can easily be made to maximise the cost efficiency of the transfer of energy.

Typical applications include radiators, air coolers, oil coolers and mobile air conditioners in transport; heat sinks for electrical equipment; calorifiers, heat pumps for domestic and industrial water heating and coils in air-conditioning and refrigeration units. With clever design copper can make heat exchanger units eco-friendly, economical and future proof for natural refrigerants.

Heat and cooling accounts for 48% of European final energy demand. 70% of that is low to medium heat below 250 degrees. Copper is used in solar thermal, geothermal and biomass applications. 

Renewables

Solar Heating

Copper's combination of high heat conductivity, resistance to atmospheric and aqueous corrosion, ease of fabrication, sealability (joining by soldering), mechanical strength and longevity offer strong advantages over any other material in solar heating applications.

Wind Energy

The primary use of copper in wind energy technologies is in the coil windings in the stator and rotor portions of the generator, in the high-voltage power cable conductors, transformer coils and earthing. 

Photovoltaics

Copper forms part of the materials presently used for photovoltaic solar cells, in the technology’s cabling, earthing, inverter, transformers and photovoltaic cell ribbons. 

Related ResourcesHere are related resources.  To browse and search all resources, visit the Resource Library.
    Pub 827 - Copper Solar Thermal Systems
    £ 0.00
    Energy and renewables, Pipe systems
    design, installation, pipework, plumbing, solar, solar thermal, tube
    This publication outlines the methodology for the design and installation of copper solar thermal systems. It includes an introduction to the concept of the solar thermal system, the types of solar collectors available, the major components in a typical solar thermal system, how to install copper pipework and the sizing of the installation, the collectors and storage cylinders.
    Pub 144 - Harmonics, Transformers and K-Factors
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    electrical, technical, transformer
    Transformers used to supply IT equipment and other non-linear loads need to be de-rated to between 60 and 80% of their nominal capacity. This technical note explains why, and how to determine the correct factor. 2000. 6pp. (Out of print).
    Pub 123 - Electrical Design - A Good Practice Guide
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    building, design, electrical, energy efficiency, installation, power quality
    This book covers the design of electrical installations in buildings, presenting good practice design solutions to reduce the impact of power quality problems and explaining how electrical efficiency can be improved. 1997. 92 pp.
    Pub 122 - High Conductivity Copper for Electrical Engineering
    Electrical systems, Energy and renewables
    coppers, alloys, conductivity , electric conductivity, electrical, engineer, standards
    This publication describes the electrical and mechanical properties of high conductivity copper and copper alloys that are intended for use in electrical applications. 2016. 32pp.
    Pub 116 - Electrical Energy Efficiency
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
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    Both financial appraisal and technical consideration of electrical energy efficiency of motors, cables, busbars and transformers, with actual case histories showing savings to be made, can be found in this book. 1997. 120pp.
    Pub 022 - Copper for Busbars - Guidance on Design and Installation
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    This 2014 update of a classic, 1936 publication provides the information needed to design efficient, economic and reliable busbar systems.
    Power Quality and Utilisation Guide
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    earthing, electrical, energy efficiency, Industry, power quality, renewable energy source
    The Power Quality and Utilisation Guide is a unique 8 section reference source providing background theory and the whole range of solutions from industry, including DG, RES and Energy Efficiency.
    D12 - K-Factor Calculation Software (Datadisk)
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    electrical, transformer
    This software calculates the K-Factor of a load from the harmonic content according to US and European practice. The results can be used to select transformers or to determine suitable de-rating factors for transformers. 1998.
    D11 - Busbar Design Software (Datadisk)
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    busbars, design, electrical
    This program calculates the current rating, size and working temperature of common configurations of copper busbars. Minimum size, savings and payback periods from the use of larger sizes, up to the most economic, are calculated. The calculations take account of copper price, fabrication cost, load growth, discount rate and increases in energy costs. 1998.
    Copper and Copper Alloys in Offshore Renewable Energy
    Marine, Energy and renewables
    alloys, applications, copper-nickel, corrosion, electrical, engineer, marine, offshore, platforms, renewables, resistance, wind energy
    This webcast presents an overview of the properties, applications and proven service experience of copper alloys in marine environments, indicating the potential benefits of technology transfer to offshore wind farms and wave and tidal devices.
    Busbar Design Basics
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    This webinar provides an introduction to busbar design concepts - choice of material, how to size busbars and how to optimise the lifetime costs, plus a demonstration of the CDA Busbar Design Software.
Renewable energy

Leonardo ENERGY

Leonardo ENERGY, the Global Community for Sustainable Energy Professionals, aims to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy economy through education and advocacy.

Leonardo ENERGY provides free education and training and promotes the exchange of expertise. It publishes Good Practice Guides, tutorials and e-learning courses to equip professionals around the globe with the necessary skills to make the energy transition.

Its webinars offer regular briefings on sustainable energy technology, policy and economics. They have enabled over 15,000 participants to keep up to speed with this fast-evolving field and to exchange views with colleagues around the world – all from the comfort of their own desk.

To codify best practices into standards, the Leonardo ENERGY team is active in a multitude of EU and international standardisation committees. It also provides regulatory advice to bridge the gap between technology and policy.

The community is managed by the European Copper Institute, in close cooperation with its many industrial, academic and other association partners.

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CDA Publication 22 - Copper for Busbars
Copper in solar panels
Larger size aluminium cable compared to copper for same current rating

10 good reasons why copper contributes to more sustainable energy

Copper has a superior electrical and thermal conductivity, is highly durable, and can be 100% recycled, without any loss in performance. Here are 10 good reasons why copper should be a material of choice when it comes to building a more sustainable energy system. Read in the Applications section how these reasons apply in specific applications
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