Are energy statistics useful for making energy scenarios?

Mario Giampietro, Alevgul H. Sorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


One can measure " energy quantities" - e.g. joules, BTU, quads - but only at a given scale and within a specific narrative about energy conversions at the time. Therefore, at the moment of generating aggregate indicators, the arithmetic summing of assessments of energy quantities referring to different scales and narratives is meaningless. This paper addresses epistemological problems typical of energy accounting, which are at the moment tackled by acknowledging the existence of unspecified " qualitative differences" among different energy forms - e.g. a joule of electricity has more " value" than a joule of coal. Three energy forms referring to different scales and narratives about energy conversions are relevant for national accounting: Primary Energy Sources (PES), Energy Carriers (EC), and End Uses (EU). We critically examine the usefulness of current energy statistics in relation to this distinction. The conventional linear representation - flow chart - based on a single scale and a single quantitative accounting confuses the three semantic categories and entails an important loss of information. Finally, we illustrate an innovative scheme for energy accounting across hierarchical levels that: (i) addresses the autocatalytic nature of energy transformations; (ii) provides a multi-scale quantitative representation; and (iii) preserves the semantic distinction between relevant energy forms (PES, EC, and EU). © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • Energy accounting
  • Energy carriers
  • Energy statistics
  • Metabolic pattern
  • Multi-scale energy analysis
  • Primary energy sources


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