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As China shifts towards a “cleaner” energy future, mineral supply questions loom

As Commodities Now reports, a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report anticipates that China’s power sector will go through substantial changes through 2030.

As part of these expected changes, the country will “add 88 GW of new power plants annually from now until 2030, which is equivalent to building the UK’s total generating capacity every year.” While coal will likely remain a dominant source of power through to 2030, China has started a shift towards renewable energy sources and is committed to head towards a “cleaner future.”

These looming changes will have an impact that will be felt far beyond China, says Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

“It is hard to underestimate the significance of China’s energy consumption growth and its evolving generation mix. The impacts will reach far beyond China and have major implications for the rest of the world, ranging from coal and gas prices to the cost and market size for renewable energy technologies.”

However, the implications are not limited to the energy sector. Renewable energy technologies require significant amounts of critical non-fuel minerals. For example, the copper content of an industrial-size wind turbine weighs in at more than three tons, and copper also yields selenium, a little-known metal which a key component in next-gen solar panels.

In our 2012 report “Reviewing Risk. Critical Metals and National Security” we found that China is a top provider of 18 metals and minerals for which the U.S. is 91 to 100% import-dependent. The country also leads the pack of lead suppliers for metals for which our import dependency is smaller. Thus, any change in China’s willingness to export – be it for geopolitical reasons or due to increased domestic demand as China’s power shift towards a “cleaner future” evolves, will be felt in the U.S., and the rest of the world.

How the numbers break down remains to be seen, but prudence would dictate that we take steps to reduce our overreliance on foreign minerals, and particularly Chinese supply. With an estimated $6.2 trillion worth of key minerals beneath our own soil, this should not be out of the question.