Chart orgy about energy trends

12 Jul

A bit more than 4 barrels of oil. Or about 700 liters. That is how much oil the average person uses each year globally. And it has been the same for the past 30 years.

chart_orgy.jpgBP recently published its annual data deluge regarding energy markets. We calculated some interesting ratios and present them in chart form, with minimal commentary.

Global per capita energy use had been stable since the 1970s, but started to increase in the 2000s. This was because of China, where per capita energy use jumped to above the world average by now. The average person consumes about 1.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, that is about 2000 liters of oil.

But even then, energy used to produce one unit of GDP (calculated at Purchasing Power Parity) has been declining in both OECD and non-OECD countries since the 1990s. Richer countries need less energy for a given amount of GDP, as they use it more efficiently and less energy-intensive services have a bigger weight in their output.

Notice how stable per capita oil use is in the past 30 years (of course its use is constantly being redistributed among countries). Per capita coal used to be relatively stable, but then came China which boosted its use. Per capita gas use have been consistently creeping up.

For a given unit of GDP the world uses less and less oil, but roughly the same amount of coal, at least in the past decade (the China effect, again). Gas is relatively stable on this measure in the long run, and the three fossil sources of energy have roughly the same importance by now.


In per capita terms, the US and Saudi Arabia use more than twice as much energy as the EU. Notice the dominance of coal in China, but also that the US still uses the same amount of coal per capita (after a 25% declines since 2008 due to cheap gas). India has very little energy use per capita, if that country develops it is likely to need a lot more.


In terms of energy use per unit of GDP, the picture is very different. Russia, Saudi Arabia and China are less efficient than the US, let alone the EU. But of course the energy efficiency of the EU is boosted by the fact that it has been outsourcing energy intensive production. India’s low per capita energy use above is related to the fact that it produces very little GDP as well, so per GDP use is not especially low. Notice that oil use per GDP (outside of Saudi Arabia) varies a lot less than other sources of energy. Also notice that non-hydro renewables are not really significant in the energy mix anywhere (yet), despite their recent fast growth.


Global per capita CO2 emissions have been increasing in the past decade, after a long stagnation. Emissions are declining in the OECD but increasing in non-OECD countries – the main reason for the latter is again China’s increasing per capita coal use. China’s per capita emission has approached that of the EU by now, from very low levels. But China is taking over some of the CO2-intensive industries from the rest of the world, so part of the CO2 emission decline elsewhere came about because of this.

Finally, a look at per GDP CO2 emissions – basically a measure of CO2 efficiency of production. The most efficient countries have high energy taxes and either a widespread use of nuclear energy (France) or hydro (Sweden). On the other end of the scale, countries use fossil fuels and have (artificially) low energy prices and generally not efficient economies.


Can we say anything sensible about the future based on these trends? That is always a risky exercise, but we will try to do that in a future post.

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