What an energy-efficient world looks like

Science & technology

In 2017, the world used 562 quadrillion BTUs of energy in the form of oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewables. But most of us don’t understand how this statistic is reflected in what we do each day.

That staggering number – 562,000,000,000,000,000 – represents the countless decisions made by the individuals, companies and communities that require energy. These decisions include the refrigerators we buy, the fuel we use in our tanks and even the large-scale energy consumption in power plants and factories.

And more amazing is that energy consumption would be so much larger if not for the advancement of energy efficiency. Fortunately, as the years roll on, our energy use gets more and more efficient.

Efficiency lets us do more with less, such as driving longer distances on better fuels and refrigerating food with less electricity. That also means fewer emissions from those same activities. Technology advances and new, lighter materials help reduce energy intensity – a measurement of the amount of energy used for an activity – and results in fewer emissions.

Without the efficiency improvements, as described in ExxonMobil’s “2019 Energy Outlook,” the world would need almost 60% more energy in 2040 than what is currently projected by the company and other experts such as the International Energy Agency.

But thanks to those efficiencies, the world will need just 20% more energy, even as the global middle class nearly doubles and seeks more goods and services that improve quality of life.

That’s good news for the economy and the environment.

Meanwhile, the United States will consume 1 quadrillion fewer total BTUs of energy in 2040 than in 2017, a feat made possible in part by efficiency gains during a time when the population is expected to grow by 15% and the economy jumps 65%.The lion’s share of the world’s energy demand growth in the coming decades is expected mainly in Asia, driven largely by population and economic growth in China and India. But because of new technologies and increased efficiency, both countries will use significantly less energy than otherwise required to fuel their rapid economic expansions.

That’s a lot of energy savings – not to mention emission reductions – all thanks to new technologies and better energy choices.

How much is a quad?
How much is 1 quadrillion British thermal units of energy, or one “quad”? It’s worth explaining, given that our estimates peg U.S. energy consumption for 2017 at 88 quadrillion BTUs of energy.
It’s not easy to make sense of such a number.
A single BTU is equal to the energy burned from lighting one match, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. A quad, therefore, is equal to 1 quadrillion – 1,000,000,000,000,000 – match strikes. As for the 88 quads of energy the U.S. consumed in 2017? When written out, it reads 88,000,000,000,000,000 BTUs.
If all those matches were laid out end to end, they would reach the moon and back more than 5.8 million times.[1][1] Assumes avg match length = 2 inches

Tags:   energy efficiencyEnergy Outlook
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