Energy transition under mineral constraints and recycling: A low-carbon supply peak

What are the implications of primary mineral constraints for the energy transition? Low-carbon energy production uses green capital, which requires primary minerals. We build on the seminal framework for the transition from a dirty to a clean energy in Golosov et al. (2014) to incorporate the role played by primary minerals and their potential recycling. We characterize the optimal paths of the energy transition under various mineral constraint scenarios. Mineral constraints limit the development of green energy in the long run: low-carbon energy production eventually reaches a plateau. We run our simulations using copper as the limiting mineral and we allow for its full recycling. Even in the limiting case of a 100% recycling rate, after five to six decades green energy production is 50% lower than in the scenario with unlimited primary copper, and after 30 decades, GDP is 3–8% lower. In extension scenarios, we confirm that a longer life duration of green capital delays copper extraction and the green energy peak, whereas reduced recycling caps moves the peak in green energy production forward.

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