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

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS & PERSONAL FINANCE - By Jenny Barch­field

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.

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