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Watts the Deal with Electricity Consumption Around the World?

Over 132,000-gigawatt hours of electricity was consumed in Malaysia in 2017. That’s just a number though. What does that mean for the country? Electricity generation and consumption is a key driver of economic growth, not only does it powers the lights we use, it’s the backbone of the nation’s commercial and industrial needs. However, we have to consume it responsibly if we want a sustainable supply for the future.

Understanding electricity usage

Electricity usage isn’t just about the total amount we use, but the average we use per person. This consumption per capita gives us a far better insight on just how much electricity countries use in comparison to each other. After all, you’d expect Malaysia’s 30+ million people to use more electricity than the ~6 million in Singapore!

As a general trend, it is the case that the more developed a nation is, the more energy they consume per capita. This shows how energy use per capita tends to grow as an economy expands.

But there are exceptions to this rule, with nations that boast large domestic fuel supplies often revealing greatly inflated energy use. As energy efficiency, consumer understanding, and efficient technologies continue to evolve, we’re also seeing a fall in energy use per capita across many advanced countries.

Malaysia – Energy Demand through Economic Growth

Malaysia is a country which has enjoyed rapid economic growth over recent decades, and rapid electricity demand growth as a result. Malaysia is today one of the largest consumers of electricity per capita in the region, with an average consumption of 4,652 kWh per capita in 2014, more than a third higher than the global average of 3,132 kWh.

Malaysia is one of the largest consumers of electricity per capita in the region

This is a country which clearly demonstrates the link between economic growth and energy demand. Malaysia’s GDP of US$38.85 billion in 1989 was reflected in a country with an energy demand of just 1,076 kWh, almost half the global average at that time. At the time of the latest energy consumption figures in 2014, Malaysia’s GDP had reached US$314.5 billion.

As the economy continues to grow, Malaysia will have to focus its efforts on reducing energy consumption per capita. Good education of consumers alongside well-supported energy efficiency methods are an important part of that, and efforts are already underway to deliver on that need.

Vietnam – Near the Start of the Curve

Vietnam’s energy demand in 2014 stood at just 1,424 kWh, just over a third that of Malaysia, a remarkable ten-fold increase in the two decades since 1994.

As a nation projected to enjoy significant economic growth in the coming years, Vietnam represents a country nearer the start of its energy demand curve than Malaysia. Yet with a GDP of US$223.9 billion in 2014, roughly a third less than Malaysia’s, it’s interesting to see how the energy demands of these two key regional partners can diverge. This reveals that while economic growth is inevitably linked to electricity demand, there is no strict baseline requirement for economies throughout the world.

Japan – The Peak of the Curve

Japan is a developed and affluent nation which has ranked amongst the world’s five largest economies for decades. That enviable economic position sees Japan as one of Asia’s largest electricity consumers, with a peak per capita use of 8,710 kWh in 2007.

Since 2008, Japan’s average consumption has broadly fallen, mirroring a gradual slowdown of the economy alongside a shift away from industrialisation. But like other advanced nations, Japan is likely entering a period where technological improvements, customer choice and changing regulatory standards are also contributing to declining electricity consumption.

Japan, alongside other such economies, showcases how changing perceptions alongside evolving national circumstances can be the spark for reducing electricity consumption per capita. The combination of informed consumption and more efficient products can provide a framework for nations looking to reduce consumption.

Brunei – Enjoying the High Life

Can you have too much of a good thing when it comes to electricity? Cases like Brunei show that might just be the case.

When the price is low, people don’t pay as much attention to smart consumption and efficiency.

With large domestic fuel reserves alongside highly favourable electricity subsidies, Brunei is a country which demonstrates far above average electricity consumption. Per capita consumption for Brunei stood at 10,291 kWh, more than double that of Malaysia and triple the global average.

Brunei isn’t the only country which reflects this pattern. Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar all represent countries with substantial domestic fuel reserves, and notable electricity system subsidies as a result. There is a clear link between subsidised and low-cost tariffs in national electricity ecosystems, and higher than average electricity consumption per capita. When the price is low, people don’t pay as much attention to the important question of smart consumption and efficiency.

Electricity is a dynamic story

In the same way that demand can change across the country, electricity demand also shifts due to factors such as the time of day, and even the weather. In the middle of the night, the country is largely asleep, and so electricity demand falls. While in the heart of the day, residential, commercial and industrial consumers are all busy demanding electricity to get on with their daily activities.

And when the heat goes up, the air con comes on! This surge in demand is responsible for Malaysia’s highest ever peak reading, as scorching weather in April 2019 saw peak demand rise to 18,566 megawatts.

It’s clear that countries in different parts of the development curve have different demands for electricity. When electricity is cheap and subsidised like in the case of Brunei, average consumption is high. But cases like Japan show that as technology and circumstances evolve, it is possible to reduce electricity demand with it.

What does that mean for countries around the world? The link between growing economic development and electricity use might be clear, but it is still in the hands of the consumers to play their part to make the change.

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