Monday, July 18, 2011

International Oil Efficiency vs Gas Prices

The above graph shows per capita oil consumption versus the retail price of gasoline in 22 developed countries.  The 2010 oil consumption data come from BP, the population figures from Wikipedia, and the 2010/2011 gasoline prices from GTZ.

This is a rough exercise - ideally I would have liked to compare vehicle fleet efficiency to retail gas prices, but haven't found suitable cross-country statistics yet.  That probably accounts for some of the outliers.  For example, the Netherlands, a dense country with high use of non-auto transportation, nonetheless has high oil usage per capita due to a large petrochemical industry.

Nonetheless, there is a clear inverse relationship, in which each additional $/gallon in gas prices is associated with using 1.5 barrels/person less each year.  This is, of course, a very long-term relationship - differences between different country's oil consumption is caused by factors like the density of the built environment - differences that have been building for over a century - as well as by the nature of the vehicle fleet which changes over a decade or two.

Currently, no developed country runs on less than about 9 barrels/person/year, with the leaders being Portugal, Italy, the UK, and France.


yvesT said...

The US keeping their ridiculously low gas tax is a proof if there was one that they are totally commited towards full economic suicide, don't forget your cars fleet is fully part of your technical infrastructure, and the key today is to push it in the right direction

Stuart Staniford said...


My take is that it's politically inconceivable in the US currently for the gas tax to be raised. The implication of this is that price-based restraint on US drivers must come from higher oil prices, not from higher gas taxes.Higher oil prices will also affect Europe, and so at some point down the road Europe may find itself in the position of having to lower gas taxes to keep the impact on European drivers within acceptable bounds.

Chak007 said...

ya, it is a well known fact that raising gas prices will lower consumption and increase fuel efficiency..china and opec countries are trying to curb consumption in this way..good post

CrowMagnon said...

Here are some country stats on transport gasoline and diesel per capita:

yvesT said...

Stuart, don't think Europe will lower its gas taxes, whatever the price of the barrel, next step could be rationing more than lowering these taxes (for instance the only ones in France asking for lowering the TIPP is the Front National or far right party). And these taxes based on volume not price, must be seen as a way to push efficiency (and lower trade deficit), much more than state or federal budget revenus, in fact you could make them 100% redistributed as proposed by James Hansen :
(and call it something else than tax)
The only way out of this mess if there is one is to push the "technical infrastructure" in a general sense in the right direction by shortening the ROI for investments aimed at lowering required fuel OPEX, as well as augmenting relative price of fuels compared to labor or added value, and for this taxes directly redistributed or not are the best way, much more than subsidies on "alternative technologies" labeled as "good", as it is always very easy to be wrong in this "good labeling" activity.
Again, the US keeping its ridiculously low gas tax is truly suicidal.
And don't forget that volume based taxes also have the effect of "smoothing" pump price variation compared to barrel price variation.

Nick G said...

This data confounds oil-product consumption by individuals with industrial/commercial consumption.

The average European uses 18% as much fuel per capita for personal transportation, mostly for historical reasons. Conversely, Europe uses far more fuel for truck freight than the US, due to historical country-based fragmentation of the rail industry.

Nick G said...

I would have liked to compare vehicle fleet efficiency to retail gas prices

That would be incomplete. The average European light vehicle uses 60% of the fuel used by the average US light vehicle, but that's only part of the story.

Europeans have roughly 50% as many personal vehicles per capita, and drive roughly 60% as many km per year, giving that 18% net figure I mentioned earlier.

This stuff is complex...

Nick G said...

Here's a suggestion for a further analysis: net imports.

The US' net oil imports are about the same as those of Europe, due to domestic production. Overall net energy imports are much lower for the US than for Europe, due to strong US coal and NG production.

yvesT said...

@Nick G
Yes, and when you consider that the US is still the third oil producing country, this makes it even less understandable that nothing is truly done to push the cars fleet efficiency in the right direction.
In fact with Europe vehicles efficiency, the US could be almost self sufficient in oil just with today's production.

CrowMagnon said...

Re: Nick G's comments

I think that choice of vehicles, driving habits, and commute distances would be influenced by long-term fuel prices.

I would be interested to see the graph of Gasoline+Diesel per capita (data I linked above) vs. price, also 1/(Gasoline+Diesel per capita) vs. price.

jc said...

I stumbled upon this post and it made me cringe a little, I am from the US, and there are fundamental reasons a tax hike would be infeasible here.

Europe has a much more efficient infrastructure when it comes to moving people around. Europe has trains, subways, public transit etc. etc. that we cannot feasibly have. The distance between cities (especially out west) prohibits the efficient and convent use of trains. Most cities are not laid out for public transit (by bus) but rather moving individuals from place to place in personal vehicles. If I want to drive from one side of my city (which is one of the 20 largest in the US) to the other, it takes me about 20-40 min depending on how far I go, if I were to take a bus it would potentially take hours. Public transit in the US is unfeasible in many respects, which make citizens drive personal cars.

So why don’t we just tax the crap out of gas so that everyone has to get a small car to afford to drive it? Because in the cities we already have people that have to fight the hour long bus ride for what should take 30 minutes to travel. See, what I am saying is that people cannot afford to drive if gas was as high as it is in many parts of Europe. And this tax would make it a pain for the rich and impossible for the poor to drive.

But it doesn’t stop there, you can’t get an efficient truck that can haul a 1 Ton boat down a mountain highway. Diesels are better but still not great, so you tax gas you hurt the boating industry (which is pretty big where I live), and then there are all kinds of small businesses that rely on these fuel inefficient trucks. Higher gas makes it even harder for them to do business because they have to charge more to people that cannot afford their services because gas prices are too high.

There is also another problem, here in the US we call small cars (like smart cars) by a special name, that name is “rolling coffins”. When one of these small efficient cars gets in a wreck, it is usually not a pretty sight. This is because usually what it hit, or got hit by, is much larger then it. Semi-trucks in the US can be loaded to 20 Tons (44000kg) without special permits. And then a half-ton pickup can haul 10,000 lbs.

But all this is the tip of the iceberg, when you get to the rural areas where there is rural poverty, the problems get even worse. There is one option for people in the rural areas, get the vehicle you need (albeit truck or car), suck it up, and pay for the gas somehow.

See, an increased gas tax is a big tax on the poor and a topic of gripe for the wealthy. We have to raise the fuel efficiency of this country by incentives, not taxes.

By the way, we have enough oil here at home for ourselves and then some. Our politicians will not let us drill for it, which really stinks (to put it lightly). Also you have the problem of gas futures and such… but that is another topic for another day.