The Price of Copper

Replacing copper at Wendy's

The Department of Energy reports that copper theft causes nearly $1 billion in losses to US businesses every year.

What would you do for few hundred bucks? Would you ruin something that cost innocent people thousands of dollars to fix, create a danger to the community, or even risk your own life? It doesn’t make sense, but every time there’s a copper theft that’s exactly the choice the thief is making.

Copper theft started becoming a problem in the early ought’s when the price of copper rose from $.80/lb. in 2003 to over $4/lb. in 20061 due to an increase in demand overseas, especially in China and India, combined with a shortage of supply worldwide. It created an opportunity for someone who knew a little about wiring to make hundreds of dollars for just a few hours of work.

The price of copper is down to $3.11/lb. today, but it’s still high enough to encourage thieves. It’s an asset that can be difficult to trace and is easily exchanged for cash. Stagnant economic conditions and general lack of deterrents2 also contribute to the continued interest in copper theft.

Copper has been stolen from everywhere. Telephone poles, construction sights, and unoccupied buildings are especially vulnerable. The thief doesn’t even have to go inside because nearly every commercial building has electrical service that runs from a transformer up the exterior of the building. All they have to do is open the panel, cutting locks if necessary, and pull out the wire.

That’s exactly what happened at Wendy’s on Paseo del Norte and Louisiana last week when thieves pulled out 680 ft. of wire, leaving the restaurant in the dark for a day. The theft cost Wendy’s over $8,000 to replace. They also lost about $4,500 in revenue for the day and employees scheduled to work lost a day’s worth of wages.

Transformer box

About $500 of copper cable was stolen from this transformer box in Albuquerque last week, but it cost over $10,000 in damages.

Although the copper stolen is worth over $2,100 at market price, the thief will probably only get about $500 at a local recycling facility.

The cost can become extremely high for businesses. In 2014, thieves stole $200 of copper from several light poles belonging to a Texas co-op, but it cost almost $19,000 to replace.3 When thieves kept taking copper from light poles along a Miami-Dade highway in 2011, it cost over $200,000 to replace the wiring and install anti-theft devices.4

The Department of Energy reports that copper theft causes nearly $1 billion in losses to US businesses every year.1

Copper theft isn’t a victimless crime. An FBI report noted that copper theft affects critical US infrastructure that “presents a risk to both public safety and national security”.  For example, in 2008 tornado sirens in Jackson, Mississippi did not warn residents of an approaching tornado because copper thieves had disabled warning sirens.2

Safety is also a great concern for the people who have to deal with the wiring itself, whether it’s the thieves or the workers who repair the wiring. With lethal voltage running through it, thieves can, and have, died trying to steal it. Whether they understand the risk is unknown. Although it’s easy to assume they know what they’re doing since most thieves seem to know where to find the copper, there was a case in Albuquerque where a pair of wire cutters were found still attached to a switch at one warehouse. It’s a miracle that person got away.

spool of copper

The rise in copper prices last decade caused a dramatic increase in copper theft.

Considering the staggering costs and dangers, many are looking for ways to deter thieves. On-site prevention ranges from hyping up security to special copper wiring that’s either less desirable to thieves or easily traceable to the rightful owner.

Some utilities try to camouflage copper by painting it, but some think that most thieves see right through this trick. Others install mixed copper wiring, such as copper clad steel, or copperweld, which is difficult to cut and worth much less at the recycling yard. One brand of copper clad steel even etches the name of the rightful owner right on the steel cables, making it easily traceable so recyclers can find out if it’s been stolen.

Recyclers themselves, being the end-person, are finding themselves at the forefront of the copper theft problem. It’s illegal to purchase stolen copper, but how do you know? Many states, including those in New Mexico, require recyclers to enter information about the person who’s selling them the copper. The Sale of Recycled Metals Act took effect in New Mexico in 2009 which requires recyclers to ask for government-issued ID from the seller, and to get the make and model of the vehicles that deliver the metal.

Bulldog Energy Solutions repairing stolen copper cables

Bulldog Energy Solutions replaced hundreds of feet of copper cable stolen from this box in Albuquerque in early October.

But recyclers are frustrated at having the onus for prevention on themselves. As one Albuquerque recycler puts it, “A guy comes in with a truckload of copper and we’ll comply with the state requirements, but if we really think about it, where does he get 100 pounds of copper? Is it our job to say ‘Are you an electrician? Where did you get it?’”5

The penalty to the thief, assuming they make it away unharmed, is the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist. In 2014, KRQE reported that one known copper thief who caused $24,000 in damages was released on bail less than 24 hours after being booked.6 Some states have begun passing legislation to increase penalties for copper theft and in 2013 a US Senate bill was proposed to make it a federal crime.

If you see suspicious activity, or if you have information about a copper theft, call Albuquerque Metropolitan Crime Stoppers at 843-STOP. Crime Stoppers partners with PNM to fund tips for copper theft arrests.


  1. Koba, Mark, “Copper theft ‘like and epidemic’ sweeping US”, 7/30/13.
  2. “Copper Thefts Threaten US Critical Infrastructure”, FBI Criminal Intelligence Section. 9/15/08.
  3. Kahn, Michael, “Copper Theft Costs Texas Co-op $19,000”. 12/16/14.
  4. Hanrahan, Mark, “Copper Thieves Leave Florida Highway in the Dark”. The Huffington Post. 8/31/11.
  5. Kamerick, Megan, “Copper thefts wreak havoc all over”. Albuquerque Business First. 2/21/10.
  6. Garate, Jessica, “Copper theft suspect bonds out of jail”. 5/27/14.

LED Use in Outdoor & Parking Applications to Rise

Outdosfra_large zoom outdoor lightingor lighting systems are a major contributor to global energy use. Today, this market segment is dominated by fluorescent, high-pressure sodium, and metal halide lamps.

Over the next 10 years, however, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will become the leading lamp type for outdoor installations. According to a new report from Navigant Research, worldwide shipments of luminaires with LED lamps for outdoor and parking applications will grow from 4.1 million annually in 2014 to nearly 14 million in 2023.

“LED outdoor area luminaires must compete with existing technologies that are relatively energy efficient and low cost, making lifetime cost savings more challenging in a market led by retrofits and replacements,” says Jesse Foote, senior research analyst with Navigant Research.

“With LED prices continuing to fall, however, the case for replacing today’s most prevalent lighting technologies is becoming more and more compelling.”

The growth of smart city initiatives is also driving outdoor lighting systems to become increasingly sophisticated, according to the report. Smart lighting systems can make decisions in real time; a networked light in a city park, for example, can detect when an individual lamp burns out and immediately schedule a maintenance crew visit.

Many companies in the lighting sector now refer to themselves as being at the center of the Internet of Things, rather than as pure-play lighting companies.

The report, Outdoor and Parking Lighting Systems, analyzes the global market opportunity for outdoor luminaires, lamps, and lighting controls in the following end-use applications: city parks and public areas, sports parks and stadiums, commercial site lighting, open air parking lots, indoor parking garages, and university and college campuses.

The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the demand drivers, business models, policy and regulatory factors, and technology issues associated with the global market for these products. Key industry players are profiled in depth, and worldwide revenue and unit shipment forecasts, segmented by nine product types and five major geographic regions, extend through 2023.

An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the Navigant Research website.

About Navigant Research

Navigant Research, the dedicated research arm of Navigant, provides market research and benchmarking services for rapidly changing and often highly regulated industries. In the energy sector, Navigant Research focuses on in-depth analysis and reporting about global clean technology markets. The team’s research methodology combines supply-side industry analysis, end-user primary research and demand assessment, and deep examination of technology trends to provide a comprehensive view of the Smart Energy, Smart Utilities, Smart Transportation, and Smart Buildings sectors. Additional information can be found at

About Navigant

Navigant is a specialized, global expert services firm dedicated to assisting clients in creating and protecting value in the face of critical business risks and opportunities. Through senior level engagement with clients, Navigant professionals combine technical expertise in Disputes and Investigations, Economics, Financial Advisory and Management Consulting, with business pragmatism in the highly regulated Construction, Energy, Financial Services and Healthcare industries to support clients in addressing their most critical business needs. More information can be found at

How to create brighter lighting from low-watt bulbs: A look at scotopic, photopic vision

When you’re looking to upgrade to energy-efficient lighting, you may be wondering how it’s possible that lower watt bulbs can look as bright – if not brighter – than those that offer a higher lumen rating. Let’s explore some of the science behind your vision (scotopic and photopic sensitivity) to determine how our engineers do it.


opicvision_web2The following post is a summary of Dr. Sam Berman‘s Scotopic vs. Photopic: Research on
vision suggests that we have more to learn about the eye and energy efficiency

Some background

Some of you may recall learning that there are two types of photoreceptor cells in your eyes – conesand rods. You might also remember that cones are responsible for day vision and rods contribute to night vision. However, vision scientists have long known that this description for the causes of day and night vision is overly simplistic.

A series of experiments sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that rods play a role in vision in lighting conditions typical of the average workplace. These tests concluded that energy efficiency in lighting could be improved if the design and installation accounted for the role of rods in the human eye. Before these studies, lighting designs for various applications have only ever considered cone sensitivity (photopic).

The experiments, conducted by Dr. Sam Berman – physicist and senior scientist emeritus, and former head of the lighting group at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory – and Dr. Don Jewett – neurophysiologist and professor Emeritus at the University of California Medical Center – used infrared technology to show that rods primarily controlled the opening and closing of the eye’s pupil. In separate tests, they later demonstrated the perception of the brightness of a room is dependent onrods, and that pupil size, as controlled by the spectrum of the room lighting, was a factor in visual performance under workplace lighting conditions.

Energy-efficient lighting and design can capture the benefits of these conclusions. That’s why knowing the difference between scotopic and photopic lighting effects can be important when choosing your new lighting equipment.

Photopic and Scotopic Vision

At different light levels, the human eye experiences different sensitivities to light.

Photopic sensitivity is based on the response of the eye’s cones to light, and currently all present light-measuring instruments are calibrated by the photopic function alone. Until recent research has demonstrated otherwise, rod response – or scotopic sensitivity – has been incorrectly assumed as not relevant for lighting practice. Since the studies demonstrated that pupil size follows the scotopicspectrum, the newer conclusions show that rod receptors are actually very active at typical interior light levels.

Pupil size does play an important role in our vision: smaller pupils provide better depth of field and awareness and will provide for better overall vision at typical interior light levels. Common lighting practices often call for the reduction of pupil size by raising the light levels. This is actually an inefficient method to control pupil size and fails to utilize the response of rod sensitivity. Simply increasing light levels in an attempt to improve vision can instead add glare and wastes energy.

In the study, participants were asked to observe two different room lighting situations constructed with the same perceived light color and asked to choose which one is brighter. The subjects overwhelmingly chose the scotopically enhanced lighting as the brighter of the two – even though the light level measured 30% lower on conventional light meters.

What it means for your lighting

It is important to have knowledge of both photopic and scotopic components of the observed light to provide optimum lighting for visual performance and brightness perception. We can adjust the lighting perception by measuring the ratio of scotopic to photopic quantities (S/P Value) for the given light source.

Allow us to demonstrate with some examples:


Ambient Lighting

Typical room lighting where visual performance is important

Lamp A

Lamp B







Color Rendering Index (CRI)



Correlated Color Temperature (CCT)

3500 Kelvin (K)

5000 Kelvin (K)

Photopic Lumens






Research has shown that the relevant photometric factor is the equivalent pupil response, which is measured as P[(S/P)^0.78] where P is the photopic amount and the exponent 0.78 of the S/P value. The effective lumens is .78. Conventional lighting application would determine that Lamp A is more efficient – higher lumens for the 32-watt bulb. However, to account for the scotopic sensitivity, let’s apply the formula. The S/P for lamp A is 1.4 and for lamp B it is 1.9.

Lamp A  2950[(1.4)^(0.78)] = 3835

Lamp B  2800[(1.9)^(0.78)]= 4619

Now you can see that lamp B actually produces more visually effective lumens than lamp A. To use other terms, lamp B is 20% more visually effective per watt than lamp A – this is the complete opposite of conventional lighting wisdom.


Task Lighting

Ambient lighting that includes independent sources, like from the monitors in a computer environment

Lamp A

Lamp B







Color Rendering Index (CRI)



Correlated Color Temperature (CCT)

3500 Kelvin (K)

6500 Kelvin (K)

Photopic Lumens







In order to provide for the smallest pupils with the least amount of glare, the ambient lighting needs to be judged purely on the basis of scotopic content: S = P(S/P)

Lamp A 2850 * 1.3 = 3705

Lamp B 2700 * 2.15 = 5805

Lamp B wins in this case as well. And in this case lamp B will cause considerably less glare and desaturation of colors on the monitor’s screen.


Well there you have it! The higher CCT helps to determine S/P and thus making it possible to calculatevisually effective lumens taking into account both photopic (cones) and scotopic (rods) vision. Our lighting experts know how to engineer your lighting design for different applications, applying photometric research and vision science.

To learn more, we encourage you to read through the research conducted by Dr. Sam Berman.