The Energy System of the People’s Republic of China

This post profiles the energy system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which includes Hong Kong and Macau.

Fossil fuels accounted for 83% of China’s energy supply in 2017, and 70% of electricity generation in 2018.

The increase in fossil fuelled electricity generation in 2018 was twice that from hydro and renewables combined.

The concepts presented here are explained in the post Energy Accounting.

CO₂ Emissions

Chart 1.(a) China’s annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Data: BP(2019).1 (b) China’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions by source from 1959 to 2019. Values for 2019 are projected. Data: Global Carbon Project.2

Primary Energy Supply

Chart 2. China’s primary energy supply, 1990 to 2018. RH-most shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 3. China’s primary energy supply, 1990 to 2018, expanded. RH-most shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 4. Annual change of China’s primary energy supply, 2000 to 2018. Data: Calculated using BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 5. China’s primary energy supply by share in 2017. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5 This dataset is the only available that shows all energy sources.
Chart 6. China’s primary energy supply by share. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
Table 1. Numerical values of China’s primary energy supply. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5 Dashes indicate negligible or zero values.

The share of supply of energy from coal in China has been about double that of the world, and oil about half, plausibly due to more economic emphasis on manufacturing than per capita consumption of goods and services. The share of fossil fuels increased from 75% in 1990 to 87% in 2010, and was 83% in 2017. While the world talked of decarbonisation, China carbonised. This is further demonstrated in chart 1 above. Although the share of fossil fuels has recently declined slightly, CO2 emissions in 2018 reached a record amount. This is because the supply of energy from fossil fuels and renewables both increased.

A measure of carbonisation is the carbon intensity of primary energy supply, shown below, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of supplied energy. This shows China carbonised since 1990, to a level in 2017 27% greater than the world value.6

Chart 7. Carbon intensity of primary energy supply. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5

Energy Consumption

Chart 8. China’s energy consumption (TFC, Total Final Consumption), year 2017. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
The dashed segment in the left hand most pie chart represents the equivalent share of electricity if the quantity produced in 2017 was produced within a 100% wind/water/solar (WWS) energy system, serving to demonstrate the remaining change needed for full electrification. The 26% in 2017 equates to 61% under WWS, as shown. The share of electricity becomes greater because total energy consumption of a 100% WWS system reduces to 42.9% of business-as-usual.7 8 This is due to: (a) using heat pumps for building heat; (b) using electricity for industrial heat; (c) using battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; (d) eliminating mining, transportation and processing of fuels, and (e) efficiency improvements.
Also note: (i) Non-energy use of energy sources excluded (e.g. oil used for lubrication); (ii) Transport & Distribution Losses include gas distribution, electricity transmission, and coal transport, and (iii) Examples of Electricity Industry Own-Use include energy consumed in coal mines, own consumption in power plants and energy used for oil and gas extraction.9

In 2017, just over a third of energy was consumed as coal directly, a fifth as oil and a quarter as electricity. If China’s energy system was transformed to 100% wind, water and solar, then the current share of electricity would be equivalent to almost 61%, as shown by the dashed green segment. Of the electricity generated, just over two thirds was coal fired, nearly a fifth hydro, and gas and nuclear about 3% each. Solar PV generated 2% and wind 4.4%.

Chart 9. China’s energy consumption (TFC) by: (a) Energy source; (b) Economic sector. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5
Chart 10. Energy consumption (TFC) in economic sectors. Note: The transport sector includes rail and aviation. Gridlines removed for clarity. Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5

Note the: (i) the high coal consumption by industry, largely for the manufacture of steel; (ii) the dominance of oil in the transport sector; and (iii) the decline of biofuels for cooking and heating.

Regarding steel production, on average, per tonne of coal consumed, the same amount of CO2 is emitted by a steel mill and by a coal fired power station.10

Steel is an alloy based primarily on iron. As iron occurs only as iron oxides in the earth’s crust, the ores must be converted, or ‘reduced’, using carbon. The primary source of this carbon is coking coal.

How is Steel Produced? World Coal Association.

China is the world’s steel giant, accounting for half of the world’s production and consumption. The next largest market is the EU at just 10%, which demonstrates just how much the Chinese market drives the global steel industry.

China continues to dominate global steel, March 2017.
East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009.11

Electricity

In 2019, China had more coal plants under construction than the rest of the world combined,12 and was funding 26% of those in construction outside China.13

China is set to add new coal-fired power plants equivalent to the EU’s entire capacity, as the world’s biggest energy consumer ignores global pressure to rein in carbon emissions in its bid to boost a slowing economy.

Last year China’s net additions to its coal fleet were 25.5GW, while the rest of the world saw a net decline of 2.8GW as more plants were closed than were built.

The Financial Times, Nov 20 2019.12
China at a Crossroads: Continued Support for Coal Power Erodes Country’s Clean Energy Leadership, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).13
The Financial Times14
The world’s ‘largest’ thermal power station as of Feb 2019: The Tuoketuo coal fired power station in Inner Mongolia (part of China and seperate from Mongolia). This power station is owned by Datang International Power Generation Co. and has a capacity of 6,270 MW.15 This is not an old plant – the first units began operation in 2003 and was most recently expanded in 2017.16
The power plant exploits coal from the Junggar Coalfield approximately 50 km (31 mi) away, and meets its water requirements by pumping its needs from the Yellow River, located 12 km (7 mi) away.17 The tall narrow chimneys are the flue gas stacks that emit CO2 and other combustion byproducts. The wide chimneys are the cooling towers that emit waste heat.18
The caption above states: As the world’s largest thermal power plant with a total installed capacity of 6,720 MW, Inner Mongolia Tuoketuo Power Generation Company insists on being synchronised with the power industry in innovation and upgrading, as well as high-efficient and clean development. It is committed to “bringing clean energy to Beijing and protecting the environment in Inner Mongolia”. In 2017, the Phase V project of Tuoketuo Power Generation Company was recognised as the Elite Project of China Datang as the two units achieved ultra-low emissions soon as they went into operation with dust emission lower than national standards and reaching the leading level in China.
Hydro electricity generation: The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China.19 This has been the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW) since 2012. The dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites, displaced some 1.3 million people, and had caused significant ecological changes including an increased risk of landslides.20
Chart 11. China electricity generation by fuel type as share of total generation (i.e production). Data: Calculated using IEA(2019) online free version.5)

Less detailed but more recent data is available from BP, and plotted in the charts below.

Chart 12. Electricity generation in China, 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 13. Electricity generation in China, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4
Chart 14. Electricity generation in China, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).1 3 4

Chart 15 shows the changes of electricity generation between years 2017 and 2018. The increase in fossil fuelled electricity generation was twice that from hydro and renewables combined.21

Chart 15. Changes in China’s electricity generation between years 2017 & 2018. Data: Calculated using BP(2019).1 3 4
  1. https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html()()()()()()()()
  2. http://folk.uio.no/roberan/GCB2018.shtml()
  3. Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.()()()()()()()
  4. https://www.worldenergydata.org/biofuels/()()()()()()()
  5. https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tables?country=CHINA&energy=Balances&year=2017()()()()()()()()
  6. Chart 9, https://www.worldenergydata.org/world-energy-supply/ ()
  7. 8.7/20.3 = 42.9%, https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/TimelineDetailed.pdf()
  8. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/WorldGridIntegration.pdf()
  9. https://www.iea.org/statistics/resources/balancedefinitions/()
  10. Steeling the Future, The truth behind Australian metallurgical coal exports, Greenpeace, https://www.greenpeace.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/280517-GPAP-Steeling-the-Future-Report-LR.pdf()
  11. East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009, Author ‘fading’ CC BY-SA 3.0()
  12. https://www.ft.com/content/c1feee40-0add-11ea-b2d6-9bf4d1957a67()()
  13. http://ieefa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/China-at-a-Crossroads_January-2019.pdf()()
  14. https://www.ft.com/content/baaa32dc-1d42-11e9-b126-46fc3ad87c65()
  15. Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd. Social Responsibility Report 2017.()
  16. https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Datang_Tuoketuo_power_station()
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuoketuo_Power_Station()
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_power_station#Typical_coal_thermal_power_station()
  19. Source file: Le Grand PortageDerivative work: Rehman, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ThreeGorgesDam-China2009.jpg, CC BY 2.0()
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam()
  21. 308/(116+37) = 2.0()