Energy Consumption

Global consumption of energy has been on the rise. There is a close correlation between GDP per capita and energy consumption. This means that as countries develop economically, energy consumption per person also increases. Energy consumption is measured in units of energy used in tonnes of oil equivalent per capita. Is a higher consumption of energy justified if it helps to develop a poorer nation?

Energy Consumption Energy Consumption

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Table of contents

    Energy Consumption - Geography Definition

    The use of energy, also referred to as energy consumption, varies depending on location and infrastructure. This variation can appear in terms of how much is used, what type is used, and the way it is used. Energy consumption is very relevant to geography, as it is directly related to climate change and global warming. Let's take a look at how we discuss the different types of energy consumption.

    The balance of energy consumption

    Some countries consume more energy than they produce. On the other hand, other countries produce more energy than they consume. This balance of energy is directly correlated with a nation's energy security- a nation's ability to maintain an energy infrastructure that meets the wants and needs of its citizens.

    Energy Consumption Global energy consumption per person StudySmarterFig. 1 - Map showing global energy use per person in 2021.

    Energy Deficit Definition - Geography

    When a country consumes more energy than it produces, there is an energy deficit. An energy deficit poses a great risk to the energy security of a nation, as the available supply of energy is unable to meet the energy demand. In fact, when a country is experiencing, or close to experiencing, an energy deficit, there is energy insecurity. An energy deficit may also make a country economically dependent on another country as a source of energy.

    Energy surplus definition - geography

    Opposite to this, when a country produces more energy than it consumes, there is an energy surplus. An energy surplus typically leads to energy security, which is good for the stability of a nation. However, energy surpluses may also lead to overconsumption of energy, which may have repercussions for the environment (such as increased emissions of greenhouse gases or air pollution).

    Comparison of energy consumption by urbanisation

    Population density and infrastructure are good indicators of energy consumption. On average, areas with fewer people and less urban development consume less energy than areas with more people and more urban development.

    Urban consumption

    There is a clear difference in the consumption of energy when it comes to cities. Seventy-five per cent of the world's energy is consumed in cities, whilst 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted from cities.¹ This can be attributed to many factors, including the accessibility of energy infrastructure and high demands from industrialised economic sectors.

    London generates 1.7 million tonnes of carbon per year, and each resident averages 1.8 tonnes of carbon per capita. Most London homes are powered through national and international supply lines.²

    Rural consumption

    In comparison, rural areas usually consume less energy than cities due to the lack of energy infrastructure and/or lower demand(s).

    That's not to say that all residents of rural areas are always entirely without energy. For example, the installation of a national solar power programme in Peru has enabled electricity to be available to 50,000 people in rural areas. This allows for increased productivity, such as in produce production, which leads to a boost in income and living standards.

    Types of Energy Consumption

    Did you know that there are different types of energy consumption? Let's take a look:

    Energy mix refers to the variety of fuel and the location of where the fuel comes from.

    Primary and secondary energy sources

    Primary energy sources are sources that are consumed in their raw form. This includes fossil fuels (oil, natural gases, and coal), nuclear energy (through uranium or plutonium), and renewable sources (such as wind, solar, and wave energy). Primary sources can produce secondary sources, such as electricity which then flows through the infrastructure of power lines to reach homes.

    Domestic and overseas sources

    Although there has been economical and population growth since 1998, the UK used less energy in 2015 due to energy-saving technologies (such as house heating and vehicle engines). Meanwhile, domestic reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea have declined, so the UK depends more on imported energy. The UK has become more and more dependent on energy imports, which means that it has an energy deficit and is energy insecure.

    Renewable and non-renewable sources

    There are many sources of energy. Renewable sources of energy are better for the environment, whereas non-renewable energy sources are likely the main cause of global warming and climate change. Where can the sources be found, and how many times is it possible to use each one?

    Different types of energy sources
    Energy typeExplanation
    Renewable energyRenewable energy comes from a source that can be constantly reused and are a continuous flow of nature. Examples are wind and solar energy.

    Energy Consumption Renewable energy example StudySmarterFig. 2 - Three Gorges Dam in China, an example of renewable energy.

    Non-renewable energyNon-renewable energy comes from a finite resource that will eventually be exhausted. Examples are coal, oil, and natural gas.

    Energy Consumption Non-renewable energy example StudySmarterFig. 3 - Rössing uranium mine in Namibia is one of the largest and longest-running open pit uranium mines in the world.

    Recyclable energyRecyclable energy comes from a source that can be used more than once. Examples are reprocessed uranium and plutonium from nuclear power plants.

    Energy Consumption Example of Recyclable energy StudySmarterFig. 4 - Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine in Ontario, Canada. This is one of the world's largest operational nuclear power facilities. Nuclear energy is an example of Recyclable energy.

    Table 1

    Examples of the combination of resource and energy

    There are various sources creating different types of energy that are more suitable for some uses than others:

    • Transport energy: energy based on oil to produce petrol, diesel, kerosene, and heavy oil to power cars, lorries, trains, aircraft, and ships.
    • Domestic energy: energy used for heating sourced from gas, oil, wood, and coal; for cooking sourced from gas, electricity, charcoal, and wood for appliances electricity.
    • Business and commerce energy: as industrial processes require large amounts of heat, they are powered by oil, gas, and coal for economic reasons. Agriculture requires large amounts of mechanical energy, which is powered by oil.

    Comparison of Energy Consumption in the UK and Norway

    By looking at a country's energy mix, you can understand the factors at play that directly and/or indirectly influence energy consumption. Let's compare the UK and Norway to look deeper into those factors.

    Domestic natural resourcesThe UK depended on coal from Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, South Wales, and northeast England until the 1970s. In the 1950s-70s, the UK was also the global leader in nuclear technology but lost momentum due to the discovery of large reserves of North Sea oil and gas. This oil and gas greatly altered the energy mix from the 1970s onwards. Norway's landscape is mountainous with a lot of steep valleys and rainfall, which makes it ideal for hydroelectric power (HEP). Oil and natural gases found in Norway's territorial waters are exported. Coal from Svalbard is also exported.
    Environmental PrioritiesBetween 1990 and 2018, the UK reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.³ It looks toward renewable sources of energy such as wind and intends to increase nuclear power. In 2015, the UK abandoned the "Green Deal," which included conservation and insulation schemes. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the UK were 7.13 tonnes per capita. As of 2020, the UK's CO2 per capita was down to 4.66 tonnes.4In 2015, Norway committed to a reduction of 40% of domestic greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. It is expanding its output of hydrocarbons and is the third-largest exporter worldwide. Norway launched 'Policy for Change' in 2016, with a domestic target of being carbon neutral by 2050. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for Norway were 11.74 tonnes per capita.5
    Political situationsIn the 1980s, the UK's energy supply industry was privatised, and overseas companies took control of the UK energy market. Primary energy is now imported from international markets. Increased reliance on imported energy has affected the UK's energy security and has become a political issue. There is also public concern over new and proposed fracking and nuclear sites. There have been grassroots direct action campaigns such as "Frack Off" to try and stop the extraction of unconventional resources in the UK. The Norwegian Water and Energy Directorate manages the nation's power supply. The government prevents any of its primary energy source sites, such as waterfalls, mines, and forests, from being owned by foreign companies. There is a sovereign wealth fund that invests in environmentally sustainable projects to prepare for a future without fossil fuels and is funded through royalties and taxes on fossil fuels.

    How Do You Reduce Energy Consumption?

    Being in a state of energy deficit can be detrimental economically, environmentally, and socially. To avoid reaching this point, sometimes it is necessary to reduce the energy consumption of an area to restore the balance between the supply and demand of energy. So, how is this achieved? Let's take a look at a few techniques:

    1. The construction of energy-efficient buildings can prevent unnecessary energy usage. This is a common technique often employed in urban areas to reduce energy consumption. Whether this is through improving insulation, installing skylights, or improving other areas, this is a useful energy-saving mechanism.
    2. As well as buildings, it is possible to make industrial and transport services more efficient, thus lowering energy consumption. As these are often two of the larger culprits of high energy consumption rates in a country, this change can make a significant difference to the energy balance (the balance between inputs and outputs of energy) within a country.
    3. Removing energy subsidies has been shown to reduce energy consumption because it will cost the user more money, meaning that they will be less inclined to use it where it is not absolutely necessary. However, this can result in negative effects for people at the lower end of the economic distribution because it can mean that many people can no longer afford to consume energy where it is usually deemed necessary.
    4. Energy conservation can occur on a smaller, individual scale too. This can be walking instead of using the car, putting a jumper on instead of the heating, or even using the energy-saving mode on your phone! These changes can radically reduce the energy consumption of a house and, if done by many people, can impact the energy use of an entire area.
    5. While transitioning to renewable energy may not reduce energy consumption per se, it will reduce the amount of energy being used that cannot readily be replaced. A change to sustainable energy sources is often considered a key part of reducing energy consumption. This is because it takes the pressure off non-renewable resources.

    Energy Consumption - Key Takeaways

    • Global consumption of energy has a close correlation between GDP per capita and energy consumption. Energy consumption is measured in units of energy use in tonnes of oil equivalent per capita.
    • Comparing urban and rural consumption, it can be seen that 75% of the world's energy is consumed in cities whilst 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted from cities, while rural areas consume less due to the lack of energy infrastructure.
    • Energy Mix refers to the variation in types of fuel and location of where the fuel comes from. Primary and secondary energy sources, domestic /overseas sources, and renewable and non-renewable sources are all factors of the energy mix.
    • The UK relies on imported energy as its supply of oil and gases declines. Norway, on the other hand, uses hydroelectric power, using their landscape to their advantage.


    1. Hurst, Catherine, Bob Digby, L Adams, Russell Chapman, and Dan Cowling, Geography for Edexcel. A Level Year 2 A Level Year 2, 2017.
    2. Hurst, Catherine, Bob Digby, L Adams, Russell Chapman, and Dan Cowling, Geography for Edexcel. A Level Year 2 A Level Year 2, 2017.
    3. Committee on Climate Change (2019) Reducing UK Emissions. 2019 Progress Report to Parliament.
    4. World Population Review (2022) Carbon Footprint by Country 2022.
    5. Fig. 1: Map showing global energy use per person in 2021 ( by Max Roser and Matt Ritchie (no accounts) Licensed by CC BY 3. (
    6. Fig. 2: Three Gorges Dam in China, an example of renewable energy ( by Rehman ( Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (
    7. Fig. 3: Rössing uranium mine in Namibia is one of the largest and the longest-running open pit uranium mines in the world ( by Ikiwaner ( Licensed by GNU Free Documentation License (,_version_1.2)
    8. Fig. 4: Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine in Ontario, Canada. This is one of the world's largest operational nuclear power facilities. Nuclear energy is an example of Recyclable energy ( by Chuck Szmurlo ( Licensed by GNU Free Documentation License (,_version_1.2)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Energy Consumption

    What does consumption mean in geography?

    Consumption relates to the use of something. Energy consumption refers to the amount of energy being used.

    What is a pattern of consumption geography?

    Currently, energy consumption is increasing across the world. However, it is common for urban areas to consume more energy than rural areas.

    Why is energy consumption increasing?

    Energy consumption is increasing because of socioeconomic development, industrialisation and higher levels of disposable income.

    What are the types of energy consumption?

    Energy consumption occurs in domestic, commercial and industrial settings. 

    Why is energy consumption is important?

    Energy consumption is important because if too much is consumed then there is an energy deficit and if too little is consumed then there is an energy surplus. Both can be detrimental to a country/area.

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