How does a country vastly grow its economy without using heaps more energy? Let’s examine the case of the United States over last forty years – courtesy of a recent annual study published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Since 1973, the US economy has grown by 287% (from $5.4 trillion to $15.5 trillion). You’d expect that energy consumption would also have correspondingly increased, to fuel that growth. But it hasn’t. Annual energy consumption has ticked up by less than 50% over the same period.
Zooming in on the years 1999-2012 provides additional color to this tale of energy-lean growth: US economic output in 2012 was 25% bigger than in 1999, but the nation’s energy consumption was actually lower in 2012 than in 1999. A related and equally astonishing energy fact about 2012: US oil consumption was even lower than it was 1973.
This eye-catching trend – namely that the economy has grown rapidly while energy use has stayed relatively flat, as shown in the chart below — suggests that the country has made enormous strides in “energy productivity.” In others words, America has become better and better at doing more with a given amount of energy.
Source: NRDC (October 2013)