Energy for Planet Earth – 30 years on – energy intensity (Part Two)

Introduction

In September 1990, Scientific American published a special issue entitled ‘Energy for Planet Earth’. In this publication, Scientific American explored the sources of energy, the future for energy, made predictions on technological breakthroughs and suggested solutions for what they considered was an imminent energy crisis.

Many of these predictions by Scientific American were made for 2020. Given we have reached that date, we can look back and compare the predictions with what actually happened. In a three-part series, Frontier Economics will compare actual outcomes to 2020 with the predictions made by Scientific American.

This comparison of actual versus predicted outcomes, especially where technological change is involved, can help us learn about the factors that have been determinative to the global community and provide guidance on how we can improve economic forecasts.

We focus on three areas where Scientific American made long term forecasts:

  • Primary energy demand (Part One)
  • Energy intensity (this article)
  • Emissions intensity (Part Three forthcoming).

Each of these is the subject of a separate note. This note examines the performance of Scientific American’s forecasts of energy intensity.

Scientific American gets it right in Part One

In Part One we reviewed the performance of Scientific American’s long-term forecasts on primary Energy Demand.  We found that, overall, Scientific American’s forecast was reasonably accurate. However, Scientific American did not perform as well on the growth performance by country. Most significantly, Scientific America materially underestimated the rapid and large increase in the growth of developing nations, such as China and India. That is, countries that were relatively poor in 1990 grew more quickly than expected, and they used energy to achieve this growth.

In this second part of our three-part series, we assess the performance of Scientific American’s forecast of energy intensity.

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