The International Energy Association, a Paris-based energy think tank has stated that between the year 2000 and 2016, the world would have used 12% more energy had it not been for energy efficiency improvements – equivalent to adding another European Union to the global energy market.
According to the organisation’s energy efficiency in 2017 report, the world continued to generate more value from its energy use in 2016. Global energy intensity – measured as the amount of primary energy demand needed to produce one unit of gross domestic product (GDP) – fell by 1.8% in 2016.
IEA says that since 2010, intensity has declined at an average rate of 2.1% per year, which is a significant increase from the average rate of 1.3% between 1970 and 2010. The improvement in intensity varies widely across countries and regions, with China once again having the most significant impact on global trends.
“This is avoiding huge amounts of energy use, generating financial savings for consumers and holding back the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite these positive impacts, there is no room for complacency,” warns the organisation.
The organisation said that the decline in global energy intensity means that the world is able to produce more GDP for each unit of energy consumed – an energy productivity bonus. “Measured as the difference between actual GDP and the notional level of GDP that would have been generated had energy intensity stayed at the previous year’s level, this bonus was USD 2.2 trillion in 2016 – equal to twice the size of the Australian economy.
Benefits to the global economy
According to the IEA, efficiency improvements since 2000 avoided additional spending on energy imports in many countries. In Japan, for example, oil imports would have been 20% higher in 2016 and gas imports 23% higher had those efficiency gains not been achieved. In Germany and the United Kingdom, Europe’s largest gas markets, energy efficiency improvements resulted in gas savings equivalent to 30% of Europe’s total imports from Russia.
“Efficiency has also improved short-term energy security by reducing peak daily gas demand. Without energy efficiency improvements over the same period, the United Kingdom and France would have needed access to an additional 240 million cubic metres of daily gas supply during periods of peak demand, equivalent to more than five times the daily withdrawal capacity of the United Kingdom’s largest gas storage site, in order to maintain current levels of short-term security,” said the report.
Experts say falling energy intensity is a key factor behind the flattening of global energy-related GHG emissions since 2014. Lower energy intensity, driven largely by efficiency improvements, is combining with the ongoing shift to renewables and other low-emission fuels to offset the impact of GDP growth on emissions. In addition to the environmental benefits, energy efficiency is bolstering energy security.