Energy Intensity Is Rising Slightly

Haibing Ma | Sep 20, 2011

Global energy intensity, defined as worldwide total energy consumption divided by gross world product, increased 1.35 percent in 2010.1 (See Figure 1.) Since the global financial crisis in 2008, worldwide energy consumption has grown faster than the global economy for two years in a row, as many countries started implementing massive stimulus packages to push their national economies out of recession.2

Energy Intensity Figure 1

This rising energy intensity reverses the broader trend of the last three decades. From 1981 to 2010, global energy intensity decreased by about 20.46 percent—about 0.79 percent each year.3 During this period, most industrial countries restructured their economies, with energy-intensive heavy industry accounting for a progressively smaller share. New technologies applied to energy production and consumption significantly improved efficiency in almost every sector of the economy. The past few decades have also seen some energy-intensive industries migrate from industrial countries to emerging economies like China and India, but such transfers were largely based on mature technologies and already improved efficiency, which helped maintain the declining trend of energy intensity at the global level.

Yet the pace of global energy intensity improvement has slowed in the last 10 years. Energy intensity dropped at an average annual rate of 0.98 in the 1980s and at 1.40 percent in the 1990s.4 During 1991–2000, the surge of the so-called knowledge-based economy significantly boosted global economic productivity without consuming too much energy.5 Then from 2001 to 2010, energy intensity dropped more slowly, at 0.03 percent a year on average.6

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