Feature Report: Energy efficiency: now an international concern

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.

Efficacité énergétique : les progrès du secteur industriel
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. The industrial and mining sectors are estimated to use 31% of all energy worldwide, behind transportation (35%) and residential and commercial buildings (34%)1. The breakdown is broadly the same in Europe, except that the service industry accounts for a larger share of total consumption1.

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 Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECDFounded 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

Significant progress has been made over the last 20 years thanks to businesses working together as part of eco-industrial parks that contribute to industrial symbiosis and industrial ecologyThe science that deals with the relationships of groups of living things and their environment. .

An eco-industrial park is a community of manufacturing and service businesses that seeks to enhance environmental and economic performance through the sharing of services and products and the collaborative management of energy, water and waste (see Close-Up: “Eco­Industrial Parks Looking to Enhance Economic and Environmental Performance”).

Industrial ecology therefore encourages close cooperation among companies, with alliances ranging from only a few units to several thousand firms, such as in China’s major parks. An estimated 20,000 eco-industrial parks currently exist, spread across every developed and emerging region in the world.

In France, one example frequently mentioned is the Dunkirk region, where more than 200 companies partner on various projects. Gas not used in the Arcelor-Mittal group’s steelmaking operations, for example, is recycled to produce 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... and heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... for the Dunkirk urban network. Kalundborg in Denmark is another famous example at the global level2.

Managing Heat More Efficiently

Heat management is critical to improving energy efficiency, particularly for industrial parks and businesses (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. 

Industry consumes less energy than buildings or transportation.


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 Organization for StandardizationIndependent, 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").



(1) International Energy Agency (IEA) Key World Energy Statistics

(2) Read more about the creation of the Kalundborg eco-industrial park (in French only)