While China’s economic slowdown has contributed to some challenging times for local copper miners recently, continued demand growth out of India could help drive a red metal recovery.

Despite only comprising around a third of China’s landmass, the subcontinental hub is expected to overtake the former as the world’s largest population by 2022, according to United Nations forecasts.

A copper boom could well be a significant implication of such rapid population growth in India, in conjunction with further, slower growth from China and the development of emerging economies across the Asian continent.

National Mining Chronicle caught up with three industry experts to get their take on a prospective, Indian-led copper re-emergence and the factors pointing its way.

Cities smarten up

International Copper Association India Managing Director Sanjeev Ranjan expects the nation’s 100 Smart Cities Mission to be among the driving forces behind copper consumption moving forward.

Introduced by the Modi Government in 2015, the Smart City initiative involves the development of cities to meet and service the growing population by providing core technology and technological infrastructure and a clean and sustainable environment.

An initial 20 cities have been chosen for Smart City development, with Deloitte estimating US$150 ($198.8) billion worth of investment will be required over the next few years to deliver the project. Around US$120 ($159) million is expected to come from the private sector.

“As emerging market populations move to cities, the need for new residential housing and transportation infrastructure arises,” Mr Ranjan said.

“Consolidation and improvement in operations of railways by bringing in better technology will also be a big positive for the copper industry.

“Wires and cables are integral components of electrical and power, infrastructure, real estate and IT industries which are key for the development of the 100 smart cities in India.”

Mr Ranjan said copper had a huge role to play in the development of India’s smart cities.
“Higher copper content in transformers improves energy performance and consequently lowers lifecycle costs,” he said.

Migration driving demand

Sydney-based independent think-tank The Warren Centre released its Copper Technology Roadmap 2030 report in August, delivering some promising findings for
both miners locally and economies in the region.

The report found that while populations were expected?to grow in Asia, the urbanisation of these populations and movements of existing people to the cities would generate substantial demand for copper in the coming years.

The Warren Institute expects 30 million tonnes of copper demand between 2015 and 2030, and its Executive Director Ashley Brinson told National Mining Chronicle India’s growing middle class had a huge role to play.

“The big demand driver will be that 200 million will be born in India and 200-250 million people will move from rural areas to cities,” he said.

“The people who are moving into cities are going to want modern house and building dwellings; they’ll be wired up with power and all that.

“There’s copper in the wiring in the buildings; to feed that there will be demand for electricity. The electricity of the past won’t be the electricity of the future.

“In a carbon- constrained world following the Paris Conference of Parties 21, everyone is moving towards renewable energy, so there is demand in emerging cities in Asia that electricity for the future is coming from solar and wind resources, and not from coal power.”

Mr Brinson said while India might bypass traditional copper-rich infrastructure, new power production mediums would still drive demand higher.

“We’re going to see that although there’s not a copper wire to be sold in telephone wires in India, there’s going to be a tremendous boost in demand in the power sector,” he said.

“That’s going to come from the copper in the solar panels and in the wind turbines.

“Although the development isn’t going to be like the development of the telephone system in Australia 50 or 100 years ago, this new development in power is copper intensive and there will be terrific demand for Australian resources to supply the power network of the future.

“This power will be perhaps even more distributed in the long run in India than even we see in Australia today.”

The never-ending story

WA-focused copper miner Sandfire Resources sold more than 68,000 tonnes of copper produced at its DeGrussa Mine in Western Australia in 2016, having developed the project from its discovery in 2009.

Sandfire Managing Director Karl Simich told National Mining Chronicle on the sidelines of the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie in August he expected China’s middle class to generate the next copper boom.

However, Mr Simich said he also expected interesting developments out of India in the coming years.

“A little bit more organised demand in India and it would be interesting to see,” he said.

“A lot of people deflect to India and say ‘that’s the next China, that’s the next demand profile’.

“The reality is there are more than a billion people there and they want, like we all do, a better life.

“We want more sophisticated lifestyles, we want more urbanisation, we want better quality of life and that fundamentally requires the use of raw materials.”

Mr Simich said the world’s progression toward urbanised, cleaner living meant copper demand would last for years to come.

“There’s no substitute that will adequately deal with the things copper is used for, and in a transformatory and more sophisticated world, copper is going to be used even greater so,” he said.

“You look at a greener, more sustainable world, whether it’s batteries in cars, green energy – copper is well and truly in all of that.”