Dr Paul Brockway is an Associate Professor in Energy and Economics at the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, UK. He has a 5 year research fellowship on the topic ‘Applying thermodynamic laws to the energy-GDP decoupling problem’, where he applies an Exergy Economics approach to study thermodynamic energy conversion within energy-economy modelling frameworks.
To meet our Paris / climate change targets, energy models assume a key role for energy efficiency to reduce energy use, in combination with a huge deployment of renewables. But is this blind faith in energy efficiency merited? I examine historical global trends, and find there has been no global historical absolute energy-GDP decoupling, and yet this is a key assumption in the models. So, what is causing the disconnect between past and future assumed energy-GDP trends? I explore the evidence for large economy-wide rebound as a plausible explanation, and find compelling support for this hypothesis. It also confirms an underrecognised role for energy efficiency in enabling economic growth. So what can we do? I close by considering what we can do in response, covering modelling and policy actions.