Why is our energy consumption not declining despite our efforts?

In Switzerland, since 1990, final energy consumption has been growing by an average of 0.3 to 0.5% per year as a result of population growth and economic development. This is despite the fact that average consumption per person is tending to fall.

Various energy efficiency measures have reduced final energy consumption per person by almost 15% since the early 1990s, from about 33,000 kWh/person/year to about 27,500 kWh/person/year today. On a national scale, this represents nearly 20 TWh saved over a period of 20 years. However, during this period, the Swiss population has grown by more than 25% to about 8.5 million people. All in all, our net consumption increased by 5% over this period, despite energy efficiency measures.

The general increase in living standards, a consequence of the economic development of recent decades, has also led to an increase in energy demand which has wiped out some of the energy efficiency measures according to the principle of the rebound effect [→ Q94]. Mobility and housing offer two striking examples.

Between 2000 and 2017, the average consumption of new private cars decreased from 8.4 litres/100 km to 5.9 litres/100 km, saving 30% on fuel per kilometre driven. However, over the same period, the total distance travelled by these vehicles increased by more than 25%, reaching nearly 60 billion km/year. This sharp increase in travel has thus thwarted the energy efficiency efforts of car manufacturers [→ Q33].

There is a similar phenomenon for housing. Thanks to energy efficiency measures, fuel consumption for heating has remained stable since 1970 despite the significant increase in the housing stock [→ Q30]. Between 2000 and 2012, annual energy consumption per square metre of housing decreased by 15%. At the same time, however, the total surface area of buildings increased by 21%, for two reasons: population growth and the increase in living space per person (owing to social changes such as rising living standards or an increase in the number of separated couples). Again, population growth and economic development have offset energy efficiency efforts.


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