A lot has been written recently about the decoupling between GDP and energy. This decoupling (shown for the IEA New Policies scenario below) is generally viewed as a central part of the solution to the the sustainability problems we face in the 21st century.
Decoupling between economic growth and energy consumption is often attributed to energy efficiency, but in actual fact stems primarily from the general transition to more service-based value creation as economies mature. As an example, the graph below plots energy intensity in the US against the fraction of the economy dedicated to manufacturing (the balance being services), revealing a almost perfect correlation.
Developing nations can therefore be expected to achieve substantial reductions in energy intensity over the coming decades as value creation is shifted more towards services. Developed nations, however, may be at the point where the economy is saturated with services, thus posing questions about whether these nations can further reduce energy intensity at meaningful rates.