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Amid Paeans to Energy Efficiency, the World Is Getting Less Efficient

A new analysis by the Worldwatch Institute shows that global energy intensity—the amount of energy needed to produce a given unit of economic output—actually increased by 1.35% in 2010. The report notes that worldwide energy efficiency had been increasing steadily until recently. Between 2004 and 2008, global energy intensity experienced its sharpest decline in 30 years, with an average annual rate of decrease of 1.87 percent. Starting in 2008–09, however, energy intensity rose again, experiencing the first rise in three decades. This may just be a short-term bump in the road to a more efficient economy, due to the drop in energy and other commodity prices in the immediate wake of the 2008-09 global downturn.  In the U.S. and other developed countries, energy intensity has kept declining, in part because more mature economies have shifted from high-energy manufacturing to less energy-intensive service and digital industries. Still, Worldwatch believes that energy intensity on a global scale is likely to continue rising over the next few years, if only because of the amount of post-recession infrastructure development underway. In the U.S., we called it the stimulus. Building roads and bridges and airports is very energy-intensive in the short run, though it pays off later.

9/22 Time