Slowly, something remarkable and under-reported is happening. The first link, between growth and energy, is breaking. Economic growth no longer translates directly into energy use. For nearly two decades, even though the economy has grown (most of the time), our energy use has been steadily falling. In 2001, Britain used the energy equivalent of 237 million tonnes of oil per year. In 2017, that was down to 192 million, a 19 per cent drop. What’s changed? Well, the 2007 financial crisis certainly had an impact. That led to a 4.7 per cent drop in GDP. But even taking that into account, and despite sluggish growth since 2007, the UK economy has grown more than 70 per cent this millennium. And primary energy use was dropping in the growth periods either side of the crash. Partly this is a result of more efficient use of fuel: modern gas plants waste much less energy at the combustion stage than coal plants do. And partly it’s efficiencies at the user end. An incandescent lightbulb is an extraordinarily wasteful thing compared to a modern LED bulb; it uses something on the order of 10 times as much energy to provide the same light. There have been similar if less dramatic efficiencies in the designs of our cars, stoves, farms, factories, and homes, among other things. But the most interesting part, I think, is the change in the nature of the economy itself. If your economy is largely based on the production and sale of physical things, then you have a hard floor on how much energy you use. The production of steel to build a car just requires a certain amount of energy in its mining, smelting and so on, and the laws of thermodynamics won’t bend for you; you can improve things with efficiency, and we have (the German economy is heavily manufacturing-based, but has become much more efficient, allowing it to also grow and reduce energy at the same time), but it can only go so far. The service sector of the economy, the bit where I pay you to do my taxes or cut my hair, is less obviously linked to energy use. And as countries develop, they move towards a service-based economy. China’s service sector now accounts for over half of its economy, up from 44 per cent in 2010 and just 22 per cent in 1983. In the developed West it’s even more, typically around the 70-80 per cent mark. And, most excitingly, the things we trade now are changing. If I buy a book on my Kindle, or a film on my Apple TV, the energy involved in producing my copy is negligible compared to the energy required to make an actual physical paper book or DVD. Information can be copied at almost no cost, but has just as much value to the user as the physical forms used to. We could, in theory, grow the economy enormously at almost no energy cost.
Business Green 19th Sept 2018 read more »
Swansea University will receive £36m to develop building materials which generate power, Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced. The technology, using heat and light to make electricity, could replace conventional walls, roofs and windows. The power could be used in homes, workplaces, schools and hospitals, with the energy stored and released by “smart energy systems”. Mr Hammond said the aim was to cut energy bills and carbon emissions. Excess power could be sold back to the national grid. Mr Hammond said: “Swansea University and the innovative companies working with it are world-leaders in clean energy.
BBC 19th Sept 2018 read more »