Zooming out: energy intensity

In a broader sense, energy efficiency measures the energy required to get a positive outcome, which can be a useful task (e.g. boiling water, powering a loudspeaker, moving a mechanical part) or goods (e.g. milk, steel, microchips). In this case it is expressed as a ratio between an energy unit and a specific activity unit (tons of produce, dollars, etc.).

Production processes and national economies can be gauged by their efficiency, but the terminology used here is energy intensity, which is expressed as primary energy demand per euro of GDP (gross domestic product).

Therefore energy intensity is a way of looking at energy efficiency from the point of view of economists.

Energy intensity around the world

map of world countries by energy intensity

This map from Enerdata depicts world’s countries according to their energy intensity. The darker the color, the more energy-intense the country is.

Colombia has the most energy efficient economy in the world. In Europe, UK, Romania and Italy lead. Ukraine and Russia are the most energy-wasting economies.

World’s energy intensity is (slowly) going down, dragged by:

  • the industry sector;
  • emerging Asian countries, gradually phasing out of a resource-intensive growth model to a service-based economy.
  • advanced countries morphing into dematerialized economies.
Energy intensity in Europe

The chart reproduces the Energy Efficiency Index (ODEX) calculated at EU level. A descending line indicates that that particular sector is reducing its energy intensity. Hover on with cursor to see exact values.

Energy efficiency of different energy-using economic sectors is improving in the EU, led by industry, which resulted in a 40% net efficiency gain. Efficiency gains in transport still lag behind.

 

How’s Ireland faring?

Energy intensity in Ireland

(hover on the graph to get exact values)

Ireland’s energy intensity is lower than the average in Europe and considering all High Income Countries.

This means that Ireland produces goods and service at a less-than-average energy requirement.

Decoupling: from cowboys to spacemen

Best scenario is that world economy reaches  “decoupling”, or the point in which the production of human goods and services doesn’t go hand in hand with the depletion of natural goods and services.

A scenario environmental economist Kenneth E. Boulding envisioned as the transition from the cowboy economy to the spaceman economy. If Earth is a little floating spaceship (a closed and finite system), and humans are the crew, can we sustain wasteful, non-efficient behaviors?

Communities are already experimenting sustainable, off-grid and decoupled living solutions, like ecovillages and Earthship homes (a type of passive, organic and self-sufficient housing designed by bio-architect Michael Reynolds – see picture).