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Raw materials demand for wind and solar PV technologies in the transition towards a decarbonised energy system

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Raw materials are essential to securing a transition to green energy technologies and for achieving the goals outlined in the European Green Deal. To meet the future energy demand through renewables, the power sector will face a massive deployment of wind and solar PV technologies. As result, the consumption of raw materials necessary to manufacture wind turbines and photovoltaic panels is expected to increase drastically in the coming decades. However, the EU industry is largely dependent on imports for many raw materials and in some cases is exposed to vulnerabilities in materials supply. These issues raise concerns on the availability of some raw materials needed to meet the future deployment targets for the renewable energy technologies.

 

This study aims at estimating the future demand for raw materials in wind turbines and solar PV following several decarbonisation scenarios. For the EU, the materials demand trends were built on the EU legally binding targets by 2030 and deployment scenarios targeting a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

 

At a global level, the generation capacity scenarios were selected based on various global commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency. Alongside the power generation capacity, the materials demand calculations considered three more factors such as the plant lifetime, sub-technology market share and materials intensity. By evaluating and combining those factors, three demand scenarios were built characterised by low, medium and high materials demands.

 

In the EU the biggest increase in materials demand will be for onshore wind, with significantly lower variations for offshore wind, while on a global scale the situation is opposite. The most significant example is that of rare earths (e.g. dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium and terbium) used in permanent magnets-based wind turbines.

 

The EU transition to green energy technologies according to the current decarbonisation scenarios can be put in dangerous due to weaknesses in future supply security for several materials such as germanium, tellurium gallium, indium, selenium, silicon and glass for the solar PV and rare earths for the wind turbines technologies.