Energy use grows faster than economic activity

Two odd and apparently inconsistent statistics emerge from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy. One statistic shows that world demand for energy increased from 2009 to 2010 by 5.6%. That is a large increase in demand. The other statistic is that world economic activity grew by less than energy demand which was 4.9%. The explanation lies in where the growth in energy demand and the growth in economic activity mainly took place.

China and India are leading the world in the rate of increase of their energy use, as well as in their rate of increase of their economic growth. There is not a direct correlation because economic growth usually brings more spending power per capita and some of that increased spending power is spent on energy. If you can afford to buy a television you will need to power it. If you can afford to install heating you will need to power it. If your economy is growing by increased industrial activity the increased demand for energy will always lead the increased growth, which takes time to works its way, statistically speaking, through the system.

Renewable energy also broke a record in 2010 accounting for 3% of the electricity produced and 1.8% of the world energy supply but as fast as renewable energy is installed unfortunately demand in the world grows faster. Renewables are only expected to meet 7% of this demand in the next ten years and stabilise there. The significance of the increasing demand for energy is that if energy demand continues to grow at around 6% a year then in 20 years our consumption of oil gas coal and uranium will be nearly three times of what it is today, hastening the time when the fuel runs out. If you factor in rapid population growth and the developing world becoming part of the developed world energy will become the most important issue in the world.

The world records that are being broken are not the records of the kind that are records about which we should boast. It is important and right that more people can enjoy the benefits and comforts that energy brings but the long term cost, in terms of climate change, will be dreadful.

Another world record was broken in June. In Hawaii at Mona Loa the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide was measured at 393 parts per million.

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