Green Economy

The green economy is a concept cherished across the political spectrum. Of interest is that it will require more mining, not less.

That is because “green-tech”, such as wind and solar electricity generation, require a lot in infrastructure for each unit of energy produced, compared to higher-intensity energy sources such as fossil fuels, or nuclear. (Of course, wind and solar are important because the fuel itself is free.)

French academics Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goffé and Nicholas Arndt reported in the November 2013 issue of the international journal Nature Geoscience: “Humankind faces a vicious circle: a shift to renewable energy will replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals and minerals).”

For an equivalent installed capacity, solar and wind facilities require up to 15 times more concrete, 90 times more aluminium, and 50 times more iron, copper and glass than fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) projects that wind and solar energy, globally, will rise from the current 400 terawatt-hours to 12,000 TWh in 2035, and 25,000 TWh in 2050.

According to Vidal, Goffé and Arndt, those two uses alone will require 3200 million tonnes of steel, 310 Mt of aluminum, 40 Mt of copper, 800 Mt of glass, and 20 billion tonnes of concrete - to say nothing of rare earth elements, and many other metals, including gold, silver and platinum.

To provide this amount of material will require a 5-18% annual increase in global mining production over the next 40 years.

NZ AND THE GREEN ECONOMY

New Zealand is of interest as a place to explore and mine because the greatest demand for metals and commodities is global, driven mostly by growth in the developing countries, and we have reasonable minerals potential.

We also have a resource management regime that is the envy of many nations, with improvements being made to our workplace health and safety regime, and our country offers a great lifestyle.

New Zealand will never be a large mineral producer on a global scale, but we have coal, iron (iron sands), gold, silver, rock phosphate, and a number of other mineral products that have an important role as the world moves towards a more sustainable economy. If we continue to develop these, our country can earn wealth and wellbeing in the bargain.