In 2018, primary energy intensity – an important indicator of how much energy is used by the global economy – improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010. This was slower than the 1.7% improvement in 2017 and marked the third year in a row the rate has declined. It was also well below the average 3% improvement consistent with the IEA Efficient World Strategy.
A range of short-term factors contributed to the slowdown in global energy intensity improvement, such as China and the US increasing their share of industrial production and pushing up demand for all primary energy fuels, weather conditions influencing heating and cooling, stronger electricity demand leading to coal power generation increasing.
Longer-term structural factors are also playing a part in the slowdown. While technologies and processes are becoming more efficient, structural factors are dampening the impact of these technical efficiency gains on energy demand, and slowing global energy intensity improvements.
If these structural trends continue, technical efficiencies will need to increase much more rapidly to achieve a level of energy intensity improvement consistent with meeting global climate change and sustainability goals.
Digitalisation is modernising energy efficiency and increasing its value. By increasing the connectivity of the world’s buildings, appliances and equipment and transport systems, digitalisation provides energy efficiency gains beyond those possible when energy end-uses remained disconnected.
Digital technologies could benefit all sectors and end-uses, but uncertainty about the scale of the benefits remains. Digitalisation could reduce global buildings sector demand by up to 10% between 2017 and 2040.