This post profiles the energy system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which includes Hong Kong and Macau. Recent news is bleak –
The following preface is equivalent in all pages on this site about energy systems, so you may wish to skip down to the heading ‘China’s Energy Supply’.
This site uses data from the IEA3 and BP.4 Although the latest year of data from BP is more recent than that from the IEA (2018 vs 2016 respectively), BP’s data doesn’t fully account for biofuels, and incorrectly categorises energy from solid biofuels as renewable,5 so some charts here are of IEA data.
An energy system is conventionally represented by the figure below –
It’s convention to use the term ‘total primary energy supply’ (TPES) to describe, or account 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 page uses the terms ‘energy supply’ and ‘energy consumption’ respectively. Information about electricity is shown at the bottom of this page.
An energy supply describes energy sources supplied to an energy system in their primary forms, prior to any conversions. To account for energy supplied by non-combustible sources, such as renewables which have natural forms of primary energy (sun, wind etc), it’s conventional to calculate for each the equivalent quantity of energy that would be required to be input to a thermal power station of average efficiency. In other words, an equivalent amount of primary energy is determined, allowing the primary energy supplied by all sources to be relatively compared. This is explained further in the About Energy Systems.
China’s Energy Supply
China’s energy supply during years 1990 to 2016 is shown in charts 1 and 2, using IEA data that allows separate analysis of all energy sources. Coal energy boomed around year 2000, eclipsing all of China’s other energy supplies, which in 2014 reached 52% of the world’s coal energy supply7 –
China’s energy supply is shown below during years 1990 to 2018, using BP’s data. Although this data is more recent, BP doesn’t fully account for biofuels and incorrectly only classifies them as renewable.5
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 for years 2000 to 2018 are shown below in chart 5. Fossil fuels once again outpace renewables –
Numerical values of China’s energy supply for recent years is shown below, calculated using IEA data (BP’s data is unsuitable for this level of detail) –
Charts 6 and 7 show China’s energy supply by share –
Numerical values are shown below for 1990, 2012 and 2016 –
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 reached 87% in 2012, and in 2016 was 83%. While the world talked of decarbonisation, its factory (China) carbonised as shown below –
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 9 shows unsurprisingly that China carbonised since 1990, to a level in 2016 27% greater than the world value (i.e 68.04 / 53.61)12 –
China’s Energy Consumption
As shown in figure 1 above, the forms and quantities of energy we consume (known as ‘total final consumption’, or here, ‘energy consumption’) differ from that 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). A profile of energy consumption allows us to profile how economies annually utilise the energy supplied.
China’s energy consumption for year 2016 is shown in chart 10 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 60%, 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 only about 1% and wind 4%.
Chart 11 shows China’s energy consumption over time. The direct consumption of coal ‘took off’ around year 2000. Oil and electricity grew rapidly while bioenergy fell.
The following charts show energy consumption by economic sector.
Noteworthy points are: (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 carbon dioxide is emitted by a steel mill and by a coal fired power station.17
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.
Chart 13 shows electricity generation over time. Coal dominated. Hydro’s contribution grew to be significant. The remaining forms of generation were negligible.
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.
More recent electricity data from BP is plotted in the charts below showing electricity generation in China for years 2017 and 2018. Although hydro is shown separately from renewables, it is of course also renewable.
Chart 16 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.23
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.
- Andrey Filippov 安德烈 from Moscow, Russia, Shanghai, China (37199009294), CC BY 2.0
- For year 2014, China coal TPES/World coal TPES = 85,119.53 / 164,750.58 = 51.6%
- Chart format copied from Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Budget 2018, slide 30, http://folk.uio.no/roberan/GCB2018.shtml
- chart 2, https://www.worldenergydata.org/world-energy-supply/
- chart 9, https://www.worldenergydata.org/world-energy-supply/
- Vmenkov, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_-Shanghai-_P1040698.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Source file: Le Grand PortageDerivative work: Rehman, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ThreeGorgesDam-China2009.jpg, CC BY 2.0
- 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
- East lake and steel mills, Wuhan, China, 2009, Author ‘fading’ CC BY-SA 3.0
- Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd. Social Responsibility Report 2017.
- 308/(116+37) = 2.0