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The energy consumption dilemma

Today we live in an era of paradox where despite all technological innovations that guarantee greater efficiency, we continue to face a constantly growing demand for energy raw materials (excluding the lockdown period). 

Understanding what drives global demand for energy commodities is complex. If we only analyze what happens in the oil market, even in this case, the factors are many. 

A first reason lies in the overall growth of the world population. In reality, the population grows mainly in countries with a development deficit, where the percentage of young people is high. In some of these countries, from India to Nigeria, economic well-being is growing (albeit with considerable and dramatic inequalities) and the percentage of middle-class population and with them the demand for goods typical of the wealthy classes of Western economies, from paper hygienic to the refrigerator and washing machine, increase. 

Another reason lies in the progressive “electrification of consumptions”, by making electric services and items that were not electric before: in developed countries, such as Europe, the so-called rebound effect is just around the corner, that is the phenomenon whereby the savings obtained with increasingly efficient and performing electrical appliances are more than offset by the increase in the use of the same or new electrical appliances. Paradoxically, greater efficiency also leads to neglecting small consumptions and adopting wrong behaviors: it is estimated that, on average, between 8% and 10% of the annual consumption of a European family is due to the standby of household appliances that are not switched off 



If climate change can lead to mild winters that lead to a reduction in heat requirements, on the other hand it determines hot summers even in countries with relatively cool climates, such as those of central and northern Europe, creating the need to cool the rooms: in fact, while at the end of the last century the peak of electricity consumption was recorded in the winter months, in this century the peak of consumption is recorded in the summer. 

Oil is not only used to produce energy or gasoline but is also the basis of many chemicals, from plastics to fertilizers. Even today, only part of the plastic we use is partially or entirely coming from recovery paths of secondary raw materials and, despite the various regulatory measures to limit their use (read our piece on this subject), it is difficult to find materials in certain product categories alternatives to plastic. 


Similarly, after a slight containment during the lockdown, food waste has started to increase again: every time we throw away food, we also throw away the resources and raw materials that were used to produce it, including water and energy, especially in the case of greenhouse cultivation which requires a high consumption of energy (other issues obviously weigh on the price of foodstuffs and the climate plays a fundamental role in this case). 

Is it therefore possible to reduce the consumption of energy commodities? 

Yes, it is possible, but it requires both a strong awareness of those who use these raw materials and a strong commitment to change their habits and behaviors, also not less relevant, a energy efficiency policy structural and in lace, as well as the spread and adoption of renewable energy as we have already spoken about. 



Vania Statzu

Environmental Economist MEDSEA

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