China not so fired up about new No. 1: energy use
disputed report shows nation’s usage doubled during past decade; U.s. tops in per capita
PARIS — China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday. China immediately questioned the report, claiming the agency’s calculations were unreliable.
Paris-based IEA said China’s consumption last year of energy sources — ranging from oil and coal to wind and solar power — was equal to 2.27 billion tons of oil, compared with 2.17 billion tons used by the United States in 2009.
The shift is historic, coming years ahead of many forecasts. In climate change talks, China has long pointed fingers at the energy consumption patterns of developed nations and may feel uncomfortable with the status of consuming more energy than any other nation. China is also sensitive to complaints about its status as the world’s biggest polluter and to suggestions that its demand is pushing up energy prices on global markets.
According to the IEA’s statistics, China’s energy consumption has more than doubled in less than a decade, from 1.11 billion tons in 2000 — driven by its burgeoning population and economic growth, which hit 11.9 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Per capita, the United States still consumes five times more energy than China, said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.
China’s manufacturing and steel production are booming, and newly prosperous Chinese families are buying air conditioners, home electronics and automobiles in record numbers.
The surge in energy consumption has turned China into one the world’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases. The government has pledged to curb the growth in its emissions but has refused to adopt binding curbs, maintaining that pollution is an unavoidable consequence of the industrialization process.
According to the IEA statistics, in 2009, more than half of China’s
total energy came from coal, a heavy polluter that accounts for less than a quarter of U.S. energy consumption. Oil — the No. 1 energy source in the U.S., accounting for nearly half the total — made up less than a fifth of the Chinese energy total.
The Chinese Cabinet’s National Energy Administration cast doubt on the IEA’s statistics, according to a report Tuesday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The report cited data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics that said China’s energy consumption last year was equal to 2.13 billion tons of oil — less than the IEA figure.
Birol, the IEA’s head economist, said the agency had used the same sources and methodology it always has in compiling the 2009 statistics, which he said were in line with the trend for the past decade. He also noted China’s status as the world’s leader in wind and solar power and said the country was also making “major efforts” in nuclear power.
China has invested heavily in hydroelectric dams, wind turbines and nuclear power plants in an attempt to cut rising reliance on imported oil and gas, which its leaders see as a national security risk. Still, coal, oil and natural gas are expected to account for most of China’s energy supplies for decades to come.
Improving energy efficiency is a key part of China’s stimulus spending in response to the global downturn.
The communist government is in the midst of a five-year campaign to cut China’s “energy intensity,” the amount of energy consumed for each unit of economic output, by 20 percent from 2005 levels.
The government said this month it has reached the 16 percent mark after shutting down outmoded power plants, steel mills and other facilities. But authorities say China still consumes several times as much energy as the United States, Japan and other developed economies per dollar of output.
Although more alternative sources are being sought to produce electricity at new substations, including this one in Daying, the surge in energy use has turned China into one the world’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases.