It’s like Christmas for energy geeks today. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy came out this morning, replete with new numbers on energy production and consumption from around the world. Oh, boy!
To be truthful, annual updates such as this don’t tell us much that we don’t already know. Global energy consumption, particularly of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) is still on the rise. The U.S. and Canada still consume about a quarter of the world’s energy, even though they account for only five percent of the globe’s population. And renewables (with the exception of hydroelectric dams) still represent the barest fraction of total energy production—no more than a rounding error, really.
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But some of the longer-term trends are interesting. If this year’s numbers are to be believed, the US consumed less energy in 2003 than in 2000, probably the result of a slower economy and higher energy costs. But consumption in the rest of the globe was on the rise. As a result, the share of total energy consumed by the US is at a historic low 23.6 percent, down from 34.5 percent in the peak year, 1967.
Total, per capita energy use in the United States has remained roughly flat for more than a decade, holding steady at about 6 percent below its 1973 peak. In one sense, that’s encouraging: as technology has improved, we’ve managed to squeeze a lot more goods and services out of each barrel of oil, each ton of coal, and each cubic foot of natural gas. But on the down side, it appears that each increase in energy efficiency over the last decade (better automobile engines, more efficient homes) has been offset by an equal and opposite increase in our appetites (bigger vehicles, more spacious dwellings). And this pattern stands in stark contrast with some other nations. Not only does the German economy uses far less energy per capita than do the economies of the United States and Canada, their energy consumption has declined over the past 25 years, even as their population has grown. That’s a model we ought to try to emulate.