The Energy System of the People’s Republic of China

Preface

The same preface is used on all posts on this site about energy systems, so you may wish to skip down to China’s Energy Supply.

This site uses data from the IEA1 and BP.2 The latest year of BP’s data is 2018, whereas the IEA’s is 2017. Despite this, some charts here use IEA data because BP doesn’t fully account for solid biofuels, and in some instances doesn’t provide adequate detail.

A conventional representation of an energy system is shown below.

Figure 1. Representation of an energy system.

The term ‘total primary energy supply’ (TPES) describes, or accounts for, energy in its primary form prior to any conversions such as coal to electricity, whereas energy in forms purchased and used by the consumer, such as electricity, is accounted for separately as ‘total final consumption’ (TFC). For simplicity this site uses the terms ‘energy supply’ and ‘energy consumption’ respectively. Information about electricity is shown at the bottom of this page.

Energy supplied by renewables (shown as non-combustibles in the above diagram) cannot be directly compared with energy supplied by fossil fuels because renewables have natural forms of primary energy (i.e. sun, wind etc). For example, the quantity of kinetic energy in wind can’t be directly measured and compared to the quantity of coal or other combustible fuels. To overcome this, for each renewable energy source, an equivalent quantity of primary energy is determined. This allows the primary energy supplied by both combustible and non-combustible (i.e. renewable) energy sources to be compared. This is conventionally done by calculating for each quantity of renewable electricity, the quantity of primary energy that would be required to be input to a thermal (fossil fuelled) power station of average efficiency, in order to output an equivalent amount of electricity. This method therefore describes the quantity of fossil fuels displaced by renewables, and is explained further in the post About Energy Systems.

China’s Energy Supply

This post profiles the energy system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which includes Hong Kong and Macau. Firstly though, recent news is bleak about China’s support of coal-fired power beyond its borders, as shown by the two articles below.

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
Shanghai’s citizens being choked by the useless byproducts of China’s energy system, Dec 5 2016.5

China’s annual territorial fossil fuel (i.e. energy related) CO2 emissions are shown below. Note the recent increases.

Chart 1.(a) China’s annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Data: BP(2019).2 (b) China’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions by source from 1965 to 2018. Data: Global Carbon Project.6 Flaring emission data for 2018 unavailable but relatively very small in other years.7

China’s energy supply is shown below in chart 2 and expanded in chart 3.

Chart 2. China’s energy supply, 1990 to 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. 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.8
Chart 3. China’s energy supply, 1990 to 2018, expanded. Data: BP(2019).2 Shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. 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.8

China’s energy supply is dominated by coal, whereas at the world scale the supply of oil and coal are similar.9 As shown further below, this is due to the consumption of coal by China’s industrial sector annually manufacturing half the world’s steel10 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.

Annual changes of China’s energy supply are shown in chart 4. Fossil fuels once again outpaced renewables in 2017 and 2018.

Chart 4. Annual change of China’s energy supply, 2000 to 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 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.8

Charts 5 and 6 show China’s energy supply by share.

Chart 5. China’s energy supply by share in 2017. Data: IEA.1
Chart 6. China’s energy supply by share. Data: IEA.1

Numerical values are shown below.

Table 1. China’s energy supply. Data: IEA.1

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 increased from 75% in 1990 to 87% in 2010, and in 2017 was 83%. 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 the energy supply, shown below, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of energy supplied. This shows China carbonised since 1990, to a level in 2017 27% greater than the world value.11

Chart 7. Carbon intensity of China’s energy supply. Data: IEA.1

China’s Energy Consumption

Significant energy consumption: Aerial view of Shanghai, August 2011.12

As shown in figure 1 above, energy consumption describes energy after conversions. 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).

China’s energy consumption for year 2017 is shown in chart 8 below. 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 8. China’s energy consumption (TFC), year 2017. Data: IEA.1 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.13 14 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.15

The following two charts below show China’s energy consumption over time by energy source and by economic sector. Consumption of coal by China’s industrial sector clearly dominates.

Chart 9. China’s energy consumption by: (a) Energy source; (b) Economic sector. Data: IEA.1
Hydro electricity generation: The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China.16 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.17

The following charts show energy consumption in each economic sector. 

Chart 10. Energy consumption in economic sectors. Note: The transport sector includes rail and aviation. Gridlines removed for clarity. Data: IEA.1

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.18

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, 2009.19

Chart 11 shows electricity generation over time. Coal dominated. Hydro’s contribution grew to be significant. The remaining forms of generation were negligible.

Chart 11. Electricity generation in China. Data: IEA.1
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.20 This is not an old plant – the first units began operation in 2003 and was most recently expanded in 2017.21 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.22 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.23

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.

Less detailed but more recent data is available from BP, and plotted in the charts below. Chart 12 shows shares of electricity generation in 2018.

Chart 12. Electricity generation in China, 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Solid Biofuels; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.8

Chart 13 and 14 compare electricity generation for years 2017 and 2018. Although BP classify hydro separately from renewables, it is of course also renewable.

Chart 13. Electricity generation in China, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 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.8
Chart 14. Electricity generation in China, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 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.8

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.24

Chart 15. Changes in China’s electricity generation between years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Darker bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. 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.8

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. Fossil fuels continue to dominate and outpace renewables.

  1. https://www.iea.org/statistics/()()()()()()()()()
  2. https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html()()()()()()()()()
  3. https://www.ft.com/content/baaa32dc-1d42-11e9-b126-46fc3ad87c65()
  4. http://ieefa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/China-at-a-Crossroads_January-2019.pdf()
  5. Andrey Filippov 安德烈 from Moscow, Russia, Shanghai, China (37199009294)CC BY 2.0()
  6. http://folk.uio.no/roberan/GCB2018.shtml()
  7. http://folk.uio.no/roberan/img/GCB2018/PNG/ctry/s16a_CO2growthbars_CHN.png()
  8. https://www.worldenergydata.org/biofuels/()()()()()()()
  9. Chart 2, https://www.worldenergydata.org/world-energy-supply/()
  10. https://www.2wglobal.com/news-and-insights/articles/features/china-continues-to-dominate-global-steel/()
  11. Chart 9, https://www.worldenergydata.org/world-energy-supply/ ()
  12. Vmenkov, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_-Shanghai-_P1040698.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0()
  13. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/TimelineDetailed.pdf()
  14. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/WorldGridIntegration.pdf()
  15. https://www.iea.org/statistics/resources/balancedefinitions/()
  16. Source file: Le Grand PortageDerivative work: Rehman, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ThreeGorgesDam-China2009.jpg, CC BY 2.0()
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam()
  18. 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()
  19. East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009, Author ‘fading’ CC BY-SA 3.0()
  20. Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd. Social Responsibility Report 2017.()
  21. https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Datang_Tuoketuo_power_station()
  22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuoketuo_Power_Station()
  23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_power_station#Typical_coal_thermal_power_station()
  24. 308/(116+37) = 2.0()