As can be seen from the table above, the trend of energy efficiency improvements or declines in energy intensity is not uniform across time periods for various country groups or for individual countries. For developed or high-income countries, the trend is most secular with improving efficiency in every time period as we move forward in time. However, for middle and low-income countries, periods of high growth may be associated with high energy intensity, which could slow down the overall improvement rate. This is most apparent for China in the 2000-2010 timeframe, where very high GDP growth rates coincided with lower focus on energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has now picked up again in the current decade, where Chinese GDP growth has moderated and a focus on environment friendly energy practices has evolved. Move over to low-income countries like India, and it seems that improvements in energy efficiency are lower in the current decade owing to higher economic growth. Thus, the Chinese pattern could repeat for emerging countries like India, which will likely moderate the pace of energy efficiency improvements to an extent as we move toward 2030.
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It is easy to conclude high income countries are more efficient because they are more technologically sophisticated than developing economies. The secular trend toward greater energy efficiency in high income countries and the corresponding evolution of technology is supportive of that conclusion.
However, it is also worth considering that globalisation has been one of the most prolific trends for the global economy over the last forty years and in that time heavy industry has decamped from the USA, Canada and Europe to Asia and Latin America. The loss of steel, aluminium and other metal fabrication, together with their supporting industries has been a significant contributor to the improving energy efficiency of post-industrial economies. Therefore, the only energy efficiency figure that makes any sense is a global one and this chart tells us energy efficiency has barely moved over the last 25 years.
In fact, the logical conclusion is that the correlation between global energy efficiency and that of low income countries reflects the attractions of low wages and regulation arbitrage for energy intensive industries.Back to top