Photo – Chinese policeman standing before the gate of Heavenly Peace, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China.1

This page profiles the energy system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which includes Hong Kong and Macau, using freely available data from the IEA2 and the method described in this site’s introduction.

This data is appalling, and recent news is bleak –

The Financial Times3
China at a Crossroads: Continued Support for Coal Power Erodes Country’s Clean Energy Leadership, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).4

China’s Energy Supply

Shanghai’s citizens being choked by the useless byproducts of China’s energy system, Dec 5 20165

‘Energy supply’ is conventionally known as ‘total primary energy supply’ (TPES), and is shown in introduction, figure 1.

China’s energy supply is shown below, alongside that of the world for comparison. Coal energy boomed around year 2000, eclipsing all of China’s other energy supplies, and in 2014 reaching 52% of the world’s coal energy supply6

Chart 1. Energy supply (TPES) 1990 – 2016 of (a) China, and (b) World. Note the differently scaled y-axes.

China’s energy supply is dominated by coal, whereas at the world scale the supply of oil is greater than coal and quantities are similar. As shown later, this is due to the consumption of coal by China’s industrial sector annually manufacturing half the world’s steel7 and much of its goods. China simply became the world’s factory, and exploited this opportunity for economic growth by the most economically efficient means possible: by combusting coal. Whoops.

Chart 2 shows the same data as chart 1, in stacked form. Note the relative size of solar PV –

Chart 2. Energy supply (TPES) of China, 1990 – 2016, stacked.

The rapid increase of China’s coal energy supply began when climate change was common knowledge. Did richer countries do all they could to prevent this? They did the opposite: governments of rich countries supplied coal in exchange for cheap goods, while simultaneously attending climate negotiations, and they continue to do so.

Chart 3 below shows China’s energy supply by share over the same period, alongside that of the world (the axis scales are equivalent) –

Chart 3. Energy supply (TPES) by share of total over the period 1990 – 2016 for (a) China, with each share for a given year as a proportion of China’s total energy supply for that year, and (b) World, with each share for a given year as a proportion of the world’s total energy supply for that year.

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 energy supplied from biofuels and waste declined, perhaps due to lower residential consumption of biofuels for cooking and heating. Note the share of fossil fuels, shown by the grey line, reached 87% around 2012, and in 2016 was 83%. While the world talked of decarbonisation, their factory (China) carbonised as shown in chart 4 below –

Chart 4. China’s CO2 emissions from 1960 – 2017.8

Chart 5 shows China’s energy supply in 2016. Coal’s share of 60% is incredible; at world scale in 2016 coal’s share was 26%.9 Oil was significant of course. Supply of hydro energy was greater than gas. Solar thermal was greater than solar PV, and combined they equalled wind and nuclear’s share of only about 1.5% each.

Chart 5. China’s energy supply (TPES) for 2016.

Or simply –

Chart 6. China’s energy supply (TPES) for 2016, simplified.

Values for each energy supply during the most recent 5 year period of the data are shown in table 1 below. The righthand columns of 1(a) show non-hydro renewables increased by the same amount as fossil fuels, but (b) shows the share of supply of fossil fuels in 2016 was 24 times greater than that of non-hydro renewables (i.e. 83%/3.4% = 24). Table (b) also shows solar PV’s share reached only 0.5% in 2016. In the context of the entire energy system and the Chinese economy, solar PV’s share remained negligible, as did that of all other non-hydro renewables and nuclear.

Table 1. Energy supply (TPES) for 2012 and 2016.

Table (d) shows the cumulative energy supplied over 2012 – 2016 was 85.3% fossil fuelled, 7.5% hydro, 1% nuclear and 2.4% non-hydro renewables. Table (e) shows the cumulative quantities of energy supplied by nuclear and solar were each about 1% of that supplied by fossil fuels (i.e. one one-hundredth).

As shown below in table 2, during the period 1990 to 2016, all non-hydro renewable energy supplies and nuclear grew rapidly from negligible quantities, but as stated above, their share remained negligible (second row of (b)) –

Table 2. Energy supply (TPES) for 1990 and 2016.

A measure of decarbonisation is the carbon intensity of total primary energy supply, which is a measure of the quantity of carbon emitted for every Joule of energy supplied by the entire energy system. Chart 7 shows unsurprisingly that China carbonised since 1990, to a level in 2016 27% greater than the world value (i.e 68.04 / 53.61)

Chart 7. Carbon intensity of China’s energy supply (TPES), 1990 to 2016.

China’s Energy Consumption

Significant energy consumption: Aerial view of Shanghai, August 2011.10

As shown in figure 1 of the introduction, the forms and quantities of energy we consume (known as ‘total final consumption’) differ from that which is supplied. For example, some energy supplied by coal is converted and consumed as electricity, and the rest is instead combusted and consumed in industrial applications (e.g. steel manufacture) and domestic applications (e.g. cooking). The calculation of total final consumption allows us to profile how economies annually utilise the energy supplied. The forms and quantities of China’s energy consumption is initially discussed below, followed by the manner of that consumption. (For clarity, forms of energy with zero value have been excluded from the following charts).

China’s total final consumption for year 2016 is shown in charts 8 and 9. Just over a third of energy was consumed as coal directly, and oil and electricity about a quarter each. 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 only 1.2% and wind 3.8%.

Chart 8. Total final consumption (TFC) of energy in China, year 2016.

Or in simpler form –

Chart 9. Total final consumption (TFC) of energy in China, year 2016, simplified.

Chart 10 shows China’s total final consumption during 1990 to 2016. The direct consumption of coal ‘took off’ around year 2000. Oil and electricity grew rapidly while bioenergy fell.

Chart 10. Total final consumption in China, 1990 to 2016.

Chart 11 shows electricity generation over time. Coal utterly dominated. Hydro’s contribution grew to be significant. The remaining forms of generation were negligible, perhaps contrary to popular opinion?

Chart 11. Electricity generation in China, 1990 to 2016.
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.11 This is not an old plant – the first units began operation in 2003 and was most recently expanded in 2017.12 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.13 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.14

Note the caption in the picture 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.

Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd. Social Responsibility Report 2017.

That’s the level of social responsibility that’s condoned in China. Here’s another example –

Hydro energy generation: The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China.15 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.16

The forms of energy China supplied and consumed were described above, and the manner of China’s energy consumption is described below.

The IEA divide economies into three broad sectors; industry, transport and other (the combination of commercial, residential, agriculture and fishing). The consumption by China’s industrial sector is shown in chart 12. Note that for clarity the following charts don’t show the forms of energy not consumed in each sector (e.g. geothermal energy in the transport sector).

Chart 12. Total final consumption of the industrial sector in China, 1990 to 2016.

China’s industrial sector consumed incredible quantities of coal to manufacture steel:

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.

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.
East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009.17

Chart 13 shows consumption by the transport sector which includes road, rail and domestic aviation. Oil eclipses all, but isn’t there an electric vehicle (EV) boom in China?

Chart 13. Total final consumption of the transport sector in China, 1990 to 2016.

Even the removal of oil from chart 11 doesn’t reveal a boom, as shown in Chart 14. After 2007 the consumption of gas was greater and grew more rapidly than electricity. As a proportion of total energy consumption by the transport sector, 3.3% was consumed as electricity in 2016. 18

Chart 14. Total final consumption of the transport sector excluding oil, China, 1990 to 2016.

Finally, consumption of energy by all other economic sectors is shown in chart 15. Consumption of biofuels and waste declined as all others steadily grew, plausibly due to population growth.

Chart 15. Total final consumption of all other sectors in China, 1990 to 2016. This category consists of the residential, commercial, agricultural and fishing sectors.

The configuration of China’s energy system seems to have solely been a consequence of globally competitive economic priorities. That competitiveness was fuelled by an abundance of cheap labour and coal from domestic and overseas mines.

  1. Chinese policeman standing before the gate of Heavenly Peace, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0()
  5. Andrey Filippov 安德烈 from Moscow, Russia, Shanghai, China (37199009294)CC BY 2.0()
  6. For year 2014, China coal TPES/World coal TPES = 85,119.53 / 164,750.58 = 51.6%()
  9. table 2,
  10. Vmenkov,, CC BY-SA 3.0()
  11. Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd. Social Responsibility Report 2017.()
  15. Source file: Le Grand PortageDerivative work: Rehman,, CC BY 2.0()
  17. East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009, Author ‘fading’ CC BY-SA 3.0()
  18. 9,742 ktoe / 299,226 ktoe as shown in the IEA’s energy Balance Data Table for PRC, 2016()