Feature Report: Energy Efficiency

2 items of content in this feature report

Going in depth


Progress Made by Industry in Becoming More Energy Efficient

Industry has contributed greatly to improvements in energy efficiency in the last 40-plus years, benefitting on its end from a reduction in energy spending per unit of production. Technological innovations and new approaches such as industrial ecology and eco-design have driven this trend.

Industry uses less energy than transportation or housing, the most energy-intensive sector. This shows the Port Arthur refinery in Texas. © BARRY STEVEN / TOTAL

Contrary to popular belief, industry is not the world's top consumer of energy. In Europe, the industrial sector's share is estimated at 24%, behind transportation (33%) and residential and commercial buildings (nearly 40%).1

Industry began working to pare its consumption during the first oil crisis of 1973. Before that run-up in oil prices, industry consumed 45% of European energy. This proportion has fallen steadily, a feat tempered by the fact that the economies of Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (organization for economic co-operation and development (oecd)Founded in 1960, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world...) countries are now more service-oriented and have offshored some of their industry to other regions of the world.


24%: The proportion of total energy consumed by industry in Europe. 

Industry has a fundamental interest in becoming more energy efficient, as this allows it to cut costs and widen its profit margins. Energy is a raw material to be managed and a cost center to be carefully controlled. The most energy-intensiveDescribes a building, mode of transportation or industrial process that uses large amounts of energy. facilities, such as cement factories, steel plants, refineries and petrochemical plants, were the first to invest in energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system.... Now that energy prices are higher, all sectors are focused on becoming more energy efficient. 

Promoting Continuous Improvement

An industrial operator interested in using less energy has three options:

  • Build a new plant featuring the latest technologies. This is the most effective way, but obviously requires major capital outlays.
  • Replace or upgrade the plant's most energy-intensive units every three or four years, during regularly scheduled maintenance.
  • Continuously optimize operations. It is possible to improve energy efficiency by 1 or 2% a year. Continuous improvement is often the option taken, because it is less capital intensive and because determining the ideal configuration once and for all is next to impossible. Efficiency gains can always be made, in particular using technological building blocks from R&D.

Industrial Ecology

Industrial ecologyThe science that deals with the relationships of groups of living things and their environment. aims to organize the interactions within groups of companies, sectors and regions, much like natural ecosystems. Industrial systems are looked at holistically, with their inputs and outputs of material, energy and information, where everything is exchanged and losses are kept to a minimum. Industrial ecology encourages close cooperation among companies, which exchange information, transfer energy and water, recycle waste and share services and sometimes even teams.

Industry consumes less energy than housing or transportation.

In France, one example frequently mentioned is the Dunkirk region, where more than 200 companies partner on various projects. Gas not used in Sollac's steelmaking operations, for example, is recycled to produce heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... and powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... for the Dunkirk urban heating network.2 Kalundborg in Denmarkis another famous example at the global level.


Using Heat More Efficiently

Efficient heat management plays a critical role. (See feature report: Using Heat More Efficiently).

Heat integration consists of designing production lines able to transfer heat from a point where it is not needed to another where it is reused.

Recovering lost heat, known as waste heatLike waste energy, waste heat is heat whose release during a process or the manufacture of a product is unavoidable..., is a huge source of energy, especially in metal, glass and cement manufacturing, refining and nuclear power plants. In all facilities, it is possible to convert what is often considered waste or a waste byproduct to energy. Examples include wastewater, various types of scrap, organic matter and steam leakage. 


In product manufacturing, eco-design is the process of considering energy and environmental issues at every step in a product's or service's life, from production, distribution and use to end-of-life recovery, often via recyclingAny waste treatment process that uses materials from identical or similar end-of-life products or manufacturing waste to produce new products.. Such life-cycle assessments are governed by standards, notably an international international organization for standardization (iso)Independent, non-governmental membership organization. Its 165 members are the national standards bodies from 165 countries... standard developed since 1994. (See Close-Up: Consumption: Carbon and Environmental Labeling).


Sources :

(1) Touteleurope.eu

(2) ECOPAL site

(3) See interview with Jorgen Christensen