Much is made about the fact the U.S., with only 4.5% of the world’s population (~ 308M), accounts for 21 % of the world’s total annual primary energy consumption (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/world.html). (These figures are for 2006 – the most recent statistics I could quickly locate). Viewed from this perspective the U.S. appears to be a greedy, irresponsible consumer of diminishing resources.
The short answer is … “no”.
A different perspective on this issue emerges when one considers the entire cost-benefit equation. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP), referencing the Goldman Sachs International Monetary Fund, the U.S. generated 21% of the global GDP in 2008. Hmmmm, we consume ~ 21% of the annual primary energy and produce ~ 21% of the annual global GDP. So let's create a figure of merit... M = % Global GDP / % global energy consumption. M = 1 for the U.S.
What's the value of this figure of merit for the up-and-coming nations of the world… say India and China?
India has 1.17B people. China has 1.33B people. Total population = 2.5B. The same sources I cited above indicate China and India combine to consume 19% of the world’s total primary energy consumption in 2006, and produced 16% of the world’s total GDP in 2008. So M for India+China = 16% / 19% = 0.84. In other words, based on this figure of merit, India and China are less efficient at producing value from the energy they consume. Or, stated differently, they are consuming too much energy relative to the GDP they produce. But this is not, of course, the complete story. (More on that in future posts.)
So, while the average American consumes much more energy than the average citizen of India or China, each American also contributes much more “value” to the world economy.
“Visualization from Gapminder World, powered by Trendalyzer from www.gapminder.org.“
It turns out there is a rather direct relationship between per capita energy consumed, and per capita GDP produced. This relationship is demonstrated rather dramatically by the plot above, which I generated at the wonderful Gapminder.org website (www.gapminder.org). It displays national annual per capita GDP (Y axis) vs. per capita electric energy consumption in kWh (X axis) for the countries of the world. Gapminder is one of my favorite resources for visualizing world demographics data. I encourage everyone to check out their on-line data visualization tools. The plot vividly demonstrates the direct relationship between per capita GDP generation, and per capita electricity consumption. There are many other thought-provoking visualizations one can generate on the Gapminder site (the plot of UN Human Health Index vs. per capital electricity consumption for instance). All of these plots point to one fact: energy availablity is a key to quality of life and economic prosperity.
And what about entropy? Well, as those of you who've studied engineering or physics will recall, entropy is, among other things, a measure of disorder in a closed system. The higher the entropy, the higher the degree of disorder in the system. One of the interesting artifacts of the first and second laws of thermodynamics is that the application of energy is necessary to bring order from disorder. In a funny sort of way, this is what the plot shown above demonstrates - albeit from an economic perspective rather than an engineering perspective. Energy is required to bring order, organize matter, and add value from an economic perspective as well. The relationship is direct, strong, and unavoidable.
One important final note. All applications of energy are inefficient and imperfect. An our primary energy resources are limited. There are clearly economic advantages to be gained by taking steps to drive down energy consumption per unit of productivity delivered. The fact there is a very real relationship is not an excuse for waste and inefficiency, but rather a motivation for improving our energy usage efficiency.
Enough musing for now...