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Energy, water and waste reduction are just three ways that smart technology can make homes more efficient. (Photo courtesy Whirlpool)

Developments in Red Metal

Copper’s Role in The Smarter Home

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MCN Editor Dan Markham The smartphone revolution transformed communication. A similar change is expected with the arrival of the smart home. And the red metals market is poised to ride the wave. 

Over the past 10 years, smartphone sales across the globe increased from 200,000 to more than 1.5 billion. Currently, smart home technology, to some degree, is in place in more than 50 million homes across the U.S. That number is expected to jump to nearly 400 million systems by 2030, according to the Copper Development Association. 

BSRIA, which studied the growth of smart homes, predicts growth of 1,600 systems in place globally by the same year, a 21 percent compound annual growth rate. “This is due to both demand and production increases for smart home appliances, ranging widely across different regions, covering voice control, security, energy management, entertainment products and much more,” says Anette Meyer Holley, business manager at BSRIA. 

A number of factors are working to push the market forward. Obviously, technological advancements in a range of fields have made interconnected homes more possible and affordable. Additionally, the smart home has the ability to seriously cut energy and water usage, which is prized both for its cost and energy savings. 

“One key reason for smart-home growth is the increased interest in green and healthy buildings,” says Thomas Passek, president of the New York-based CDA. “Automated systems for heating, lighting, shading and more can lead to better energy ratings, cost savings and waste reduction.”

Of course, these developments aren’t merely limited to home usage. The technology will be instrumental in all types of buildings, from homes to multifamily residential, into office, industrial and retail space. 

Fleming Voetmann, vice president of public affairs for the Washington-based International Copper Association, says three factors will power the next wave of smart home construction: artificial intelligence, demand response and flexibility and smart communities.

AI advancements, he says, allow smart homes to tailor a building’s functions to the user’s needs. Artificial Intelligence can absorb human and environmental behaviors to reduce energy usage with lighting, water, heating and cooling. 

Demand response is already taking place in the U.S. and Europe, as energy companies and communities try to match energy consumption and distribution with fluctuating demand needs. The development of smarter homes and buildings makes grid optimization much feasible. Additionally, a similar system can be developed for water and other resources. 

Finally, smart homes lead to smart communities, with a vast infrastructure of interconnected homes and buildings. “Cities can be broken down into communities, and communities into individual buildings. So, to have smart cities, we must look at communities and find new ways of collaborating, creating large-scale synergies among energy and waste solutions,” Voetmann says. 

Central to all of these efforts is copper. The red metal’s properties will make it an integral part of the development of wiring, batteries and devices that will power the new connected homes and buildings. 

“Copper is critical for the expansion of smart homes: the metal is found in smart home hubs, switches, routers, wiring and lithium-ion batteries for energy,” says Passek. “By using copper, the sustainable building community can create structures with features that not only preserve the integrity of the environment, but also promote occupant health and well-being.”

The various copper groups estimate the average smart home will contain about 11 pounds of copper, though that amount will fluctuate based on a number of variables.

Ultimately, this push will result in an increase in global demand by 1.5 million metric tons by 2030, which is a remarkable level of growth from the demand level today. Passek doesn’t believe that will be a problem. “Keep in mind that copper is 100 percent recyclable and demand can be alleviated by a steady stream of recycled content with no performance loss.”

An approximate 8.1 million tons of copper are recycled annually, “making copper a critical and efficient component of the circular economy,” Passek says. 

Of course, the development of the industry, and copper’s role in it, can’t be taken for granted. Organizations such as the Copper Alliance will work with architects, energy companies, city planners and others to educate the stakeholders on what makes copper the material of choice. Several efforts are already under way. 

The industry conducted a study identifying copper’s numerous opportunities in projects pursuing LEED or Well Being certification, following the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers Standard. Additionally, the ICA launched Copper Mark, an assurance system inspired by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12. “The Copper Mark reflects a coordinated effort with groups like International Council on Mining and Metals to reflect industry best practices, performance expectations and to help mines and refiners protect workers and the environment,” Passek says. 

The need for these types of systems must be understood beyond the building community, but include local, state and federal governing bodies. Voetmann points out these developments are critical to keep up with the rapid urbanization of the planet. As more of the world moves from underdeveloped into developed, the existing number of resources and our methods of distributing them are insufficient. Governments and other agencies must make the adoption of these systems a priority.

“Population growth will introduce the problem of supplying basic resources like safe food, clean water and sufficient electricity, while also ensuring the overall economic, social and environmental sustainability to all,” he says. “Smart cities can provide solutions to these challenges as well as a good quality of life for citizens, though this is possible only with the help of improved building codes and standards and clever regulation, forcing developers to invest in state-of-the-art technologies (lighting, energy efficiency HVAC, etc.). Without these components, countries with rapid population growth will lock into old and inefficient technology, which is unsustainable.”
However, it’s the consumers and design community that will make the final call, Passek says. “The copper industry’s role will be making sure copper’s attributes are clearly understood: resiliency, efficiency and sustainability, as well as providing the design community with educational materials to assist them in their material decisions.”