Copper price increases show no sign of slowing, but wire & cable purchasers have alternatives
Copper costs have gone up at an exponential rate since the beginning of 2020. Costs have increased 50% from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 and market experts believe that the cost of copper will continue to increase over the next year.
This begs the question as to what, if any, alternatives to copper stranding are available for purchasers of wire and cable? The answer is aluminum. Aluminum is a lower cost alternative to copper, and while the aluminum market has also seen volatility during the last year, it has only increased 24% from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 and remains much cheaper than copper ($2,091/tonne for aluminum v. $8,477/tonne for copper).
How Does Aluminum Compare to Copper?
Aluminum differs from copper in a number of ways. Most importantly, it is much lighter and denser. As a result of its density, more cable can be produced from a metric ton of aluminum than copper.
The main disadvantage of aluminum compared to copper is that while it offers the same ampacity, it is less conductive, and it is more brittle. Consequently, more aluminum must be used to pass the same current as copper, which results in larger cables.
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Since aluminum is more brittle than copper, it is most often used in large-gauge building wire, as the applications for these products do not often require a great deal of flexibility. IEWC maintains stock of THHN and XHHW-2 building wire and has identified sources that stock and produce aluminum stranded products.
Fiber has emerged as another alternative to copper. Historically fiber has been more expensive than copper, but with the rising costs of copper and the decreasing cost of installation of fiber, it is now a much more cost-competitive alternative. The graph below demonstrates the sharp decrease in the Product Price Index (PPI) for the manufacturing of fiber optic cable:
Particularly in network transmission applications, fiber offers a number of distinct advantages over copper. Fiber has much greater bandwidth than copper which results in increased transmission speed over greater distances.
A disadvantage to fiber is that in the current market, it is mostly limited to network transmission and other communication applications. In addition, while the cost gap between fiber and copper has greatly narrowed, the cost of fiber terminals and connectors is higher than that of copper.
Contact your IEWC sales representative for potential alternatives to copper conductor cabling for your applications.