OCIM
20 January 2020

Silver: A Sustainable Asset

The production and uses of silver illustrate how a metal and sustainable development goals (« SDGs ») can be fundamentally connected. as expressed by the United Nations.

Over half of the silver produced is used in industrial applications, many of which are central to modern technology and directly related to specific SDGs. Because of silver’s critical role in the electronics sector, we are all connected we all benefit from the reliable and efficient operation of many cutting-edge clean technologies that rely on silver’s unique chemical and physical properties.

With its unique conductive and chemical properties, silver is an important industrial metal with significant roles in many electrical and electronic applications, including within the transportation and electric generation sectors. The ongoing revolution in green technologies, driven by the mainstream adoption and exponential growth of new energy vehicles (« NEVs ») and the continued investment in solar photovoltaic energy, should form an increasingly important part of future industrial demand for silver.

In the transportation sector, spurred by overwhelming policy support as well as falling costs and greater understanding of the benefits of electric vehicles, NEVs will account for an ever-increasing proportion of global vehicle sales. It is estimated that they may collectively account for as much as 17% of global car sales, while hybrids will account for an additional 20% of sales by 2030.

The incremental growth in silver loadings within new energy vehicles will have a meaningful impact on future demand for silver in the automotive segment. In vehicles, Silver is primarily used in electrical contacts, which connect electrical components with one another. The automotive battery market remains a commercially untapped opportunity for silver-zinc batteries.

In the Power sector, silver is mostly used in solar energy applications.

The cost of installing and providing solar photovoltaic (« PV ») has fallen rapidly relative to other electrical energy sources over the past two decades. These trends are expected to continue over the medium term, leading to an ever-increasing share in renewable energy generation and investment led by both macroeconomic/cost considerations and public policy.

Solar energy uptake will grow most significantly in developing regions during the next decade as a result of major policy-driven investments in domestic solar infrastructure in China and India.

Although solar power will account for a growing share of global electricity generation, the amount of silver used per photovoltaic cell is expected to continue declining. However, it is important to note that silver’s unique conductive properties ensure that substitute materials will not be able to match it in terms of energy output per panel. As a result, the pace of silver « thrifting » is expected to slow down considerably over the longer term, ensuring that the solar PV market will remain a key vertical for silver use in industrial applications.

Growth in both automotive and solar applications as described above will bolster a « green » demand for the use of silver in the long term, thus making it a sustainable asset. 

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