Last week, the International Energy Agency released its World Energy Investment report, covering 2016 global energy investments. This estimates that $231 billion was invested in energy efficiency products and services worldwide, a 9 per cent increase from 2015.

If we compare this with its 2016 energy efficiency indicators report, we can see which countries are spending wisely and which are not – and, for Australia, what are the biggest drivers of energy usage, particularly in buildings.

What drives final energy use? It’s vital to know in order to improve and track national energy efficiency policies and reduce energy bills, address climate change and air pollution, improve energy security, and increase access to energy.

The report finds that, around the world, energy consumption and economic development have been decoupling. Gross domestic product (GDP) increased by over 90 per cent between 1990 and 2014, while total primary energy supply (TPES) grew by 56 per cent.

The amount of energy used to generate a unit of GDP is called energy intensity. This decreased by about  20 per cent between 1990 and 2014, but there are large regional variations. Energy efficiency is a big factor in intensity levels but not the only one. Climate pays a part and so does whether the industry is heavy, light or service-based.

All countries have shown improvement over the last 13 years, but some more than most.

  • The worst performers in terms of rate of improvement of building energy efficiency are: USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
  • The best are: Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Ireland.
  • The worst overall performers in terms of the amount of energy used to heat a square metre of residential floor space are: Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland and Canada.

The IEA notes that a gradual but noticeable shift toward larger dwellings in some countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia has pushed up energy consumption per capita. Put simply: bigger homes use more energy.

This is how energy was used by sector:

The transport sector accounted for the highest share of final energy consumption in 2013 (35 per cent), followed by manufacturing (23 per cent) and the residential sector (21 per cent).

Transport energy use is especially high in Australia, North America and New Zealand, mainly because of the higher per-capita distances travelled (through private vehicle use instead of public transport) and the use of bigger vehicles.

Residential space heating and appliances emissions were greater than those of any manufacturing sub-sector. Space heating was the largest emitting end-use especially in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

Improvements in the efficiency of space heating have occurred across IEA member countries, mostly due to better insulation of new buildings and refurbishment of old ones. Residential space heating intensity is defined as energy consumption per floor area.

Warmer countries show generally lower space heating intensities, as less energy is needed on average to keep the temperature inside residential buildings at a comfort level.

Overall, however, the IEA is pleased that trends are down. In 2015 energy efficiency across all end-use sectors caused over 80 per cent of the downward pressure on energy consumption, and were approximately four times larger than the savings associated with structural economic changes.


The particular results for Australia are shown in the figures below.

It can be seen that residential consumption of energy has gone up by 114 per cent since 2000, while the population has increased by 121 per cent and average floor area of a dwelling increased by 127 per cent. So while energy use has risen overall, the amount per head has decreased.

The use of appliances and space cooling devices are responsible for most of the increase. The increase in the number of dishwashers is by far and away the biggest single cause of the first, almost double the increase in energy use from ICT equipment.

The data source for the figures is the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy. But the IEA notes that there are discrepancies between the indicators and the energy balance figures. These are under investigation. It says: “A program of work is underway to improve the quality and consistency of these data in Australia. As such, care should be taken when using these data.”

David Thorpe is the author of  Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment