The expansion of renewable energies requires enormous quantities of raw materials that have not been needed so often so far. Meanwhile, the first raw materials are becoming scarce. In some cases, the deposits are limited to individual countries, which thus have a monopoly, which already creates new dependencies.
Renewable energies require many times more metals than coal-fired power plants with the same output
According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA: May 2021), a modern solar system requires more than twice as many metallic raw materials as a coal-fired power plant with the same output. Wind turbines require even more, a good five times as much for onshore wind turbines and more than seven times as much for offshore wind turbines. This makes the construction of renewable energy plants significantly more resource-intensive than a coal-fired power plant.
The demand for rare raw materials creates new dependencies. The demand for raw materials will multiply in the coming years.
The demand for raw materials will multiply in the coming years
In 2021, the German Mineral Resources Agency had the raw material requirements for the energy transition determined. On behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, a team of researchers examined the demand for metal resulting from the accelerated expansion of renewable energies (German Mineral Resources Agency). The researchers listed more than 20 metals whose procurement is already critical. However, the demand for these raw materials will multiply in the coming years due to the expansion of renewable energies.
However, these metals are also needed for the expansion of electromobility, for stationary electricity storage systems and large-scale plants for electrolysis for the production of green hydrogen. In addition, there is the need for other high-tech technologies, such as ever larger data centers, quantum computers and radio frequency microchips for 5G and 6G radio masts.
The demand for rare raw materials creates new dependencies
Due to the growing demand for rare metallic raw materials such as neodymium, iridium or scandium, the German and European energy transition is entering into new dependencies. In many cases, this dependence will be even more critical than in the case of fossil fuels, because both the mining and processing of many of these metals are limited to only a few or even individual countries.
German politicians consider the procurement of raw materials to be a task for the economy. In China, the extraction of raw materials has been supported by state subsidies since the 1990s. Today, China dominates the mining and processing of all rare earth metals, but also gallium, vanadium and indium.