06 May 2010

China's Energy Intensity Increases

Reuters reports that China's energy intensity -- that is, energy consumption per unit of GDP -- has increased during 2010:
China's energy use in generating each dollar of gross domestic product rose 3.2 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, state media cited a cabinet statement as saying on Thursday.

The increase, which reversed steady declines in the previous years, poses severe challenges for China to meet its goal of reducing energy intensity by 20 percent from 2005 to 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao said, according to the People's Daily.

From 2005 to 2009, China has brought its energy intensity -- the amount of fuel needed for generate each dollar of national income -- down by 14.38 percent.

"This greatly increased the difficulty of our work for the last three quarters of this year," Wen was cited as telling a cabinet work meeting on Wednesday.

This means, almost certainly, that China's economy has become more carbon intensive in 2010. This should not come as a surprise, despite the praise for some quarters given to China for its green energy policies.

Last fall I took a look at China's promises for short- and long-term intensity goals (both energy and carbon) and found them to be unrealistic. In a letter to Nature (PDF) on China's long-term target I wrote:
. . . projections of business-as-usual decarbonization from any country that are at rates three times higher than recent historical averages should be greeted with appropriate scepticism.
China now seems all but certain to miss its short-term target, though Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promises to use an "iron hand" to get back on track. Of course, the greater the effort made to reduce inefficiencies to meet short-term targets, the harder the task remaining to hit long-term targets, as the so-called "low hanging fruit" will have already been harvested.


  1. Of course, the greater the effort made to reduce inefficiencies to meet short-term targets, the harder the task remaining to hit long-term targets, as the so-called "low hanging fruit" will have already been harvested.

    I wouldn't say the task to hit long-term targets is harder based on harvesting "low hanging fruit" in the short-term. Short-term fixes almost always deal with "low hanging fruit"; long-term fixes need to deal with systemic changes. It'd be naive for anyone (individual, company, country) to count on low hanging fruit to hit long-term targets; it'd also be a sign that they aren't serious about making real changes.

  2. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-05/china-s-coal-price-rises-as-drought-cuts-stockpiles-update1-.html

    "China, the world’s second-biggest electricity producer, is counting on its coal-fired power plants to offset a reduction in hydropower because of a dry spell in the southwest that’s lasted six months."

    It's quite interesting how the exact same natural phenomena, a dry spell, is interpreted one way in the climate community and another way in the energy community. :)

    The energy community attributes a significant portion of china's increased demand for coal to a short term weather problem.

    The climate community sees it as a symptom of a longer term problem.

    China's Hydro-power Capacity is 172 Gigawatts.
    20-25% of total capacity with plans to expand to 300 Gigawatts by 2020.

    A 'dry spell' is going to have a large temporary impact on 'carbon intensity'.

  3. I ma certain the Chinese government cares deeply about carbon dioxide and is doing everything in its power to do its fair share to save the world.

    Because they respect Al Gore.
    Because they respect Western style democracy.
    Because the believe Greenpeace & the WWF are "altruistic".
    Because they feel obligated to "do their fair part"

    Really, that's what the Chines government believes.
    It was in my fortune cookie at the Golden Palace where I had dinner last night.

  4. According to estimates of the supply and consumption of primary energy in China published by the International Energy Agency (“Energy Balances of Non-OECD Countries (2009 Edition)”, p. II.92), the contribution of each of the main sources to China's total supply of energy in 2007 were: Coal and peat, 65.7%; Other fossil fuels, 21.7%; Combustible renewables and waste, 9.9%; Hydro-electricity, 2.1%; Nuclear, 0.8%; and All other (geothermal, wind, solar, etc), 0.3%.

    In the same year the main sources of energy for electric power generation in China were: Coal and peat, 81.0%; Other fossil fuels, 2.0%; Hydro, 14.8%; Nuclear, 1.9%; and All other, 0.3%.

    These figures confirm that a 'dry spell' could temporarily raise the demand for electricity from coal-fired plants, but suggest that there would only be a slight effect on total energy used (and hence on CO2 emissions).

  5. The US has about half the hydro capacity of China.

    In the US in 2001 we produced 216 million megawatts from hydro,a dry spell year,
    in 2009 we produced 274 million megawatts. About a 20% swing due to 'weather'.

    China's 2007 14% Hydro x .20 reduction due to dry spell = 2.8%.

    I do believe they had an unusually cold winter along with a few other countries as well.

  6. When all else fails...change how the statistics are calculated.


    The National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday revised the energy consumption per GDP unit during 2006-2009.

    "Decline of energy consumption per GDP unit during 2006-2009 were revised from 1.79 percent, 3.66 percent, 4.6 percent and 2.2 percent to 2.74 percent, 5.04 percent, 5.20 percent and 3.61 percent, respectively."