Copper Is Essential to Modern, Sustainable Electric Grids

March 17, 2017


NEW YORK, NY— Microgrids and smart grids are becoming increasingly relied upon as the world searches for sustainable power sources and as its energy needs continue to grow. As advancements in power technology continue making electrical grids smaller, more powerful, and more energy efficient, one precious metal is behind it all: copper.

The Copper Development Association (CDA) has examined these trends in electrical infrastructure and has published a new case study, titled Copper Connects Microgrids with Smart Grids. This new publication offers expert insight into the latest energy technology, how it encourages renewable technology, and how copper connects it all together. The study found that modern energy infrastructure is moving away from traditional large, resource-consuming electrical grids and moving toward microgrids that make it easier to distribute power to communities, public institutions, commercial facilities, universities, and even island communities.

Microgrids utilize wind and solar energy systems, which also use copper to run efficiently, as opposed to traditional energy storage systems and fossil-fuel burning plants unless absolutely necessary. Microgrids are also very resilient and decrease the chances of major electrical failure.

“Microgrids are truly the future of power systems,” said Zolaikha Strong, director of sustainable energy at CDA. “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.”

One example of microgrids is the installation at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. The peak load of the campus is around 10 megawatts (MW) and its on-campus DER includes two 4 MW combined cycle gas units and a small wind turbine. There are also plans to add rooftop photovoltaics (PV) as well as a 500 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery, which will bring the total DER capacity close to 9 MW. This will allow the campus to operate as an “island” most of the time, meaning it will not import any power from the grid. A “smart grid” generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation.

As these new types of electrical infrastructure become 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 are not totally independent but rather can share their resources to 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.

Read the Microgrid case study.