Minerals are building blocks for energy technologies. A future transition towards clean energy technologies will substantially increase the mineral demands1. But the future mineral supplies may not respond fast enough to meet their escalating demands due to supply chain issues, posing concerns to the clean energy transition2. We developed a new capability in the Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM) to quantify mineral demand endogenously for the global power sector and evaluating the effect of mineral supply constraints on long-term power sector evolution.
We added subtype technologies to solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, and battery storage to capture their differences in mineral uses. A total of 12 minerals that are important to the power sector are considered. A suite of mineral supply constraints are developed by assuming their future supplies in the power sector follow the historical growth rates of their supplies. These supply constraints are linked with two energy transition pathways (Reference and Low-carbon transition) to provide a rich set of scenarios to unveil the effects of mineral supply availabilities on global power sector development.
We found that mineral supply constraints affect the global power sector development, but the impact varies depending on the type and number of minerals being constrained. Cu is widely used in all generation and storage technologies of the power sector, so Cu supply constraint affects all power sector technologies and reduces the cumulative new capacity addition and capital investments (from 2020 to 2050) by up to 27.0% and 19.2% (Low-carbon transition scenario) (Figure 1). Si, Nd, Li, and graphite are exclusively used in solar PV, wind, and li-ion batteries. Their supply constraints mostly affect the relevant technologies, and therefore have relatively smaller impacts on the whole power sector. Our study highlight the importance of technology-wide improvement in mineral use efficiency and increased mineral supplies to mitigate the impacts of mineral supply constraints.
- Månberger, A. & Stenqvist, B. Global metal flows in the renewable energy transition: Exploring the effects of substitutes, technological mix and development. Energy Policy 119, 226–241 (2018).
- IEA, A. The role of critical minerals in clean energy transitions. in (IEA Paris, France, 2021).