What is the relationship between energy use, economic growth and human welfare?

What implications follow for the feasibility of decoupling energy consumption from economic growth?

These are some of the questions our research group is asking. We examine the interaction between energy use and society by focusing upon the useful stage of the energy provision chain. In particular, we focus upon useful exergy – the portion of energy flows which can be put to productive use. Using this recently developed lens, the group aim to develop new insights into the energy-economy nexus.

Beginning in the 1970s, researchers began to apply the thermodynamic concept of exergy (see ‘What is Exergy?’) to national-level studies of energy and resource use. By tracing the progression of energy from its primary form, as it appears in natural resources, right through to the point at which it is used within the economy, it is possible to see where the greatest opportunities for energy savings lie. If a study of this type is extended beyond a single year to look at time series of energy use, it can facilitate the study of historical energy use patterns and the drivers of energy transitions.

This type of energy analysis has been developed and improved, to the point where a consistent and adaptable framework is emerging. Today, an active group of researchers collectively based at various academic institutions around Europe are collaborating over this new and highly insightful analytical tool.