Getting intense about energy efficiency
The struggle for energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, and energy savings is a global one, and one in which we are all tied together, from Bangladesh to Montreal, Los Angeles to Sydney. This effort is a complicated skein of individuals doing their part with simple things like an EcoSwitch in their homes, corporations enacting energy saving processes in their offices and choosing Green construction techniques for their facilities, and governments seeking ways to save power both in their own operations and in the fields of life they regulate.
Unfortunately, this means that the level of effort and the effectiveness of the efforts varies greatly around the world. There are many factors that affect the Energy Intensity (the global standard measurement of economic energy efficiency) of each nation: The level of overall development, the amount of energy generated domestically opposed to the energy imported, climate and other natural elements. So which countries rank the highest and why?
Power consumption: the green mile
At the very top of the list is Japan, the world’s most energy efficient nation. At first glance this might seem surprising since Japan is very crowded and very technologically advanced – surely all those cars and the digital lifestyle of its population must equal a huge energy debt?
It does – but Japan has two factors that make its Energy Intensity score the best in the world: On the one hand it produces very little of its own energy, importing most of it, and this has always been a powerful incentive to use that energy as efficiently as possible. On the other hand, Japan is also a highly developed nation and can use that technological and economic power to its advantage in ways that smaller, poorer countries cannot.
It’s also important to consider the vast differences between a developed country like Japan and a much poorer country. For example, technically speaking Chad has the best Energy Intensity score in the world. But Chad is a small, poor country where agriculture on a fairly primitive scale is the biggest industry. Its energy use is naturally much smaller and thus it’s energy efficiency is much better.
Ranking the first world
A better comparison would be to consider The United States against Japan. The USA is the very definition of a developed, rich country, but its Energy Intensity is much worse than Japan’s – twice as bad, in fact. The reasons are the inverse of Japan’s: The United States, although an importer of vast amounts of energy, produces a great deal of its own energy, and the vast resources of the country combined with a relatively loose system of governmental regulation has resulted in an inefficient approach to energy use. In fact, only in recent years when the price of oil and gasoline has risen markedly has the USA made any efforts to improve its Energy Intensity score.
The countries that round out the Top 5 in terms of Energy Intensity are all similar to Japan in being reliant on imported energy, and thus motivated by basic economic factors to seek efficiencies. After Japan, the Top 5 includes Denmark, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Ireland. These countries all represent a much more hands-on approach from government regulation as opposed to the more market-led approach of the United States. This kind of centralised control makes it easier to have a coherent energy policy that pays dividends in terms of energy saving and energy efficiency.
And the worst? Representing, perhaps, too much governmental control, the bottom of the Energy Intensity list for developed countries are all former Soviet countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine’s Energy Intensity score is 30 times worse than Japan’s. Another aspect of these terrible scores, of course, is the ageing infrastructure in these countries, where the energy system hasn’t been updated in decades.
This is, of course, just a reminder about the scale of the problem. Individuals can do their part, but until every country in the world commits to improving their Energy Intensity, the problem will remain unsolved. Every person in the world must make activism with their own government a part of their personal energy saving program.