Clearly, copper isn’t as valuable as gold, but its increase in value is catching the attention of thieves, resulting in stories of copper theft hitting the headlines.
The world is shifting towards clean-energy solutions and several long-term trends are driving the need for more copper, including the demand for electric vehicles, the consumption of electronics, and the increased use of renewable energy sources—all of which require significant amounts of copper. According to the Copper Development Association, 12-times more copper is being used in many renewable energy systems than in traditional systems.
Price of copper is drastically rising
In a recent article, Dr Chris Hinde, a mining engineer who writes for The Northern Miner, explained that copper is now trading at its highest level for ten years. He said, “Although consumption of the red metal is soaring, supplies are restricted as copper inventories are near 15-year lows and, of course, new mines take years to come to fruition. As a result, copper has been one of the best-performing metals of the past year, with the price almost doubling.”
In January 2020, the price of copper was £6,165 per tonne. A year later, in January 2021, there was a 28% increase to £7,919. However, in the first five months of 2021, the price increased by 74% to £10,725 per tonne.
Historically, people sold their scrap metal to dealers for cash, so there was no way to be certain if the metal was legitimate or not. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act was implemented in the UK in 2013, and successfully solved the widespread problem of metal theft from buildings as the government introduced a ban on cash payments and enhanced identity requirements. However, metal theft is now significantly increasing again.
The impact copper theft has on everyday life
By May 2021, a significant number of copper theft cases had already been reported. National Rail raised their concerns, explaining, “Cable theft costs us millions of pounds each year. The total cost to the economy – taking into account the impact of freight delays to power stations and supermarkets, and on passengers who miss appointments or have their day ruined – is even higher.”
In Newport, Wales, on February 2021, St Woolos Hospital was targeted by thieves in who stole £35,000 worth of copper wiring overnight, disabling the emergency electrical generator in the process and putting patients’ lives at risk. A spokesman for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said: “This despicable theft has caused significant cost and disruption to local NHS services at a time when we our staff are facing extra pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In February 2021, Examiner Live published an article with the headline, “Copper theft gang left 45,000 homes across Yorkshire and the North without power.” The organised crime gang stole around 57 miles of hard drawn copper wire belonging to Northern Powergrid during 250 separate thefts. Members of the public who came across damaged power lines and those responsible for investigating the offences were also placed in danger.
Electric car chargers have also become increasingly sought after by thieves looking to make quick money. Car chargers are particularly appealing because they and can easily be sold on eBay, Facebook and other platforms for up to £200.
No end in sight
The volume of copper required for products and technology that impact every aspect of our daily lives will continue to increase exponentially as the demand for them grows. Consequently, the risk of this precious commodity being liberated at every opportunity will also continue to increase, with vacant commercial property being particularly vulnerable.
Perhaps knowing that metal theft will continue regardless, means damage limitation, not prevention, should probably be the primary focus of every commercial property manager or owner. Can you outwit the thieves? Can you make it so challenging for thieves to steal from your property, they give up?
One thing is certain; properties left unsecured are an open invitation, especially to organised crime where, like catalytic converters being stolen from vehicles in broad daylight, the risk-reward ratio weighs heavily in favour of the reward.