The evolution of the energy intensity

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Energy consumption increases with the Gross Internal Product (GIP)2 once a certain level has been reached. The energy intensity, defined as the energy consumption related to the GIP, can be used as an indicator of the efficiency in the use of energy for ensuring living standards in a country and its evolution with time.

Large discrepancies are observed between the energy intensities of different countries in the world. Thus, the energy intensity of the USA is higher by 50% than the average energy intensity in the European Union. The differences result from a whole set of factors such as the latitude, which determines the needs for residential heating, or distances, which influence the need for transportation. They result also from different ways of life.

The diagram in Figure 5.1 shows the important progress that has already been accomplished and that remains possible [37]. Thus the US energy intensity has been divided by a factor close to 2 during the last thirty years. The energy intensity of France has been reduced by 35 % between 1973 and 2001.

In developing countries, the energy intensity initially grows during the first development phase and then decreases. Thus the energy intensity of China has initially reached high levels and has sharply decreased later on. The present level is slightly above 0.2 toe/1000 US $ GIP (0.23 toe/1000

2 Total value of the internal production of goods and merchant services within a country during a year.

toe/1000 $ GIP

United Kingdom

United States,,

France /


/' I Anticipated evolution


, ' for developing

' , 1 countries

1840 1880 1920 1960 2000 2040

1840 1880 1920 1960 2000 2040


Figure 5.1 Evolution of the energy intensity (toe/1000 US $) (Source: Le Monde Diplomatique)

US $ GIP in 2004). However, it can be observed that during recent years this decrease has stopped [38].

Ultimately, the energy intensity of all countries tends towards a value close to 0.2 toe/1000 US $ GIP. Nevertheless, although the energy efficiency tends to decrease, the consumption of energy rises, as a result of the combined effect of demography and improving standard of life.

As an indicator, the energy intensity has to be used with care. Indeed, a reduction of the energy intensity can be presented as a success, but may be not sufficient, if it is more than compensated by the growth of the GIP. It is necessary to reach a reduction of the energy consumption in absolute terms and only as related to a permanently increasing GIP.

The value of the GIP as a development indicator is also more and more frequently challenged. It does not take into account the depletion of natural resources or environmental damage. Other indicators have been proposed. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) takes into account positive and negative effects upon the environment and the society in order to correct the indications of the GIP. In the USA, while the GIP per inhabitant has roughly tripled within the last fifty years, the GPI has remained almost constant. Different trials have been made for taking into account the quality of life, by introducing indicators which take into account an index reflecting the feeling of well-being and satisfaction of the people. The Happy Planet Index is obtained by considering the product of a life satisfaction index by life expectancy and relating this product to the ecological footprint. Numerous other indicators have been introduced; the 'green GIP' was introduced by the World Bank and the Human Development Index (HDI) was introduced by the United Nations [41].

It does not seem feasible to define a single factor, which would take into account all the different factors. The existence of different indicators illustrates the fact that the GIP does not represent a unique or even the best way to measure the development of a society.

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