Energy Intensity in Europe, the US and Japan

In the previous posting we analyzed the development of energy intensity at a European scale. The findings were twofold: on the one hand, we saw a clear tendency to lowering the amount of energy per unit of GDP. This means that energy is used in a more efficient way. On the other hand, there are still remarkable differences between the EU member states. The gap between, say, Spain and Denmark which amounted to 63.72 kgoe/1000 EUR in 1995 has actually widened over the years and was at 79.44 in 2009. Thus, Denmark has clearly done better than Spain during that period. This, in turn means, that there is substantial room for improvement on the Spanish side.

Arguably one might say, that Spain and Denmark are not at the same level in terms of productivity, and that is certainly a valid point. However, from the Spanish point of view it is strongly desirable to become more competitive and thus increase its productivity.

In this post we want to have a closer look at the energy intensity of the three main economies in the world having comparable levels of productivity: the EU, the US and Japan. The raw data for the following analysis have been taken from Eurostat. As usual, the quantity in question is measured in kgoe/1000 EUR of GDP.

Fig. 1 Energy intensity in the EU, US and Japan, kgoe/1000 EUR

First, we observe a decline of energy intensity in all three economies. However, this decline is much more pronounced in the EU and the US than in Japan. During the period in question the US saw its intensity figure falling by 25.6%, while Europe faced a decline of 20.9%. Japan, on the other hand, came down by a mere 11.8%. Why is that so? It seems that Japan has already reached a saturation level when it comes to using energy in the most efficient way. The US and Europe have considerably improved their output figures, delivering a higher GDP per unit of energy used.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge gap between the two “Western” economies and Japan. Clearly, the gap is narrowing. In 1995, it was some 104.9 kgoe/1000 EUR between the EU and Japan, while the respective difference between the US and Japan was 134.6. In 2009, this has come down to 73.5 (EU-Japan) and 85.7 (US-Japan), respectively. Thus, the United States are still using almost twice as much energy per unit of GDP as Japan.

Improving productivity and introducing energy saving measures are the key parameters if we want to perform equally well as Japan. Clearly, Japanese economy has set the baseline which we should try to achieve. It is possible to bring energy intensity down to less than 100 kgoe/1000 EUR. However, this may take several decades given the current level of progress.

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