We analyse how the global material stocks and flows related to the electricity sector may develop towards 2050. We focus on three electricity sub-systems, being generation, transmission and storage and present a model covering both bulk and critical materials such as steel, aluminium and neodymium. Results are based on the second Shared Socio-Economic Pathway scenario, with additional climate policy assumptions based on the IMAGE integrated assessment framework, in combination with dynamic stock modelling and an elaborate review of material intensities.
Results show a rapid growth in the demand for most materials in the electricity sector, as a consequence of increased electricity demand and a shift towards renewable electricity technologies, which have higher material intensities and drive the expansion of transmission infrastructure and electricity storage capacity. Under climate policy assumptions, the annual demand for most materials is expected to grow further towards 2050. For neodymium, the annual demand grows by a factor 4.4. Global demand for steel and aluminium in the electricity sector grows by a factor 2 in the baseline or 2.6 in the 2-degree climate policy scenario.
We show that the combination of rapid growth of capital stocks and long lifetimes of technologies leads to a mismatch between annual demand and the availability of secondary materials within the electricity sector. This may limit the sector to accomplish circular material flows, especially under climate policy assumptions. We also highlight the potential for electric vehicles to curb some of the material demand related to electricity storage through adoption of vehicle-to-grid services.