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Why China's Energy Consumption Will Keep Rising

Robert Wilson's picture
, University of Strathclyde

Robert Wilson is a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde.

  • Member since 2018
  • 375 items added with 268,015 views
  • Jul 9, 2014
Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Jul 9, 2014

Based on the population densities of major Chinese cities I’d have to say I’d be very suprised if China went the US route.  China’s big cities are generally in the 5-15k people per square kilometre range.  This is actually a lot denser than big European cities which are more in the 3-5k range.  Whereas LA, NY and San Fran are closer to 2k.

Now obviously density isn’t everything.  But given the rate of urbanisation in China I’d say this is a good marker to expect it to be more on the Europe/Japan path than on the US/Canada/Australia.

Loving the charts.  Very easy on the eye with the clean formatting

Nick Grealy's picture
Nick Grealy on Jul 9, 2014

As regards coal, the air quality argument in China is pretty compelling and no government, even allegedly “authoritarian” ones as some like to paint the PRC, can allow the coal caused pollution to continue.  The answer is going to be gas.  You’d expect me to mention shale and you’d be right: I don’t think we can dismiss the ability of a country that built 10,000 KMs of highway in five years or bought the Beijing/Shanghai HGV on line ahead of schedule and under budget.  

But there’s plenty of other gas, notably from Siberia via the recent Gazprom deal.  That gas would have been stranded otherwise, so it being used in China is good for coal switching. Similarly, there’s a lot of actual and potential LNG available.  Can China get rid of all coal?  Unlikely, but it can get rid of the dirtiest.  China is also concerned about coal imports in an energy security sense.

As regards industry,  a reshoring of both CO2 emissions and industry via 3D printing may change things, as well as general reshoring, a good example of here in the US textile industry

What alarmed me in China is the size of the cars.  I figured as companies like Volkswagen and Peugeot were 1980’s pioneers, Chinese people were driving Golfs and 206’s.  Wrong!  Francois Hollande doesn’t have a car the size of a China built Peugeot. They’re huge.  Audi have a special A7L for the China market,  made bigger to accomodte chauffeurs.  The suburbs of Beijing have more Cadillac dealerships than New Jersey.  The transport contribution to air pollution/CO2 can definitely be improved, despite a big push on LNG/CNG trucks and buses.


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jul 9, 2014

Great point about density.  To the degree they do go with autos, the high density is a much better fit for EVs.

– Fewer service stations, which are single story structures, highly undesirable in high density areas.

– High density suggests shorter trips so range anxiety less of an issue = today’s shorter range cars already a good fit.

– With TOU metering can be much more renewables friendly load thus supporting reduced emissions.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 9, 2014

China will most probably develop more of everything, good and bad. Since John Kerry is over there (today) and says that the U.S and China are in close dialog, they will probably be talked into business as usual such as mere efficiency measures, a few wind turbines and solar panels and other fluff designed to keep the world dominated within the fossil fuels box and not developing any reasonable way out such as advanced nuclear. Therefore, just more of the same until this path that leads to destruction is complete.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 9, 2014

LIndsay, the “US route” – including the density of its largest cities – is the result of cheap gasoline, not cultural leanings, innate frugality, nor anything else. If Europe had the petroleum resources of the U.S./Australia/Canada as its infrastructure was being built, the density of its cities and its highway system would be similar.

China will probably hew more to the European model due to its relative dearth of oil reserves.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jul 10, 2014

Audi have a special A7L for the China market,  made bigger to accomodte chauffeurs. “

Not only Audi but Jaguar, Land Rover, Ford, Toyota, BMW etc. This issue is ‘completely’ cultural as cars as opposed to houses per say are seen as a good mode to demostrate peoples taste and wealth. People with wealth and power want to differentiate themselves from the ordinary man on the street. While this is inherent in most societies, in China it is especially and agressively reflected in car sizes.

What this leads remains to be seem but it probably will mean more resources being thrown at personalised transport and possibly in the extreme a de-densification of some Chinese cities. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 11, 2014

Great point Willem.  We in the clean energy community want to believe China will replace their coal fleets with other energy sources.  But the most economical solution for their air pollution problems is probably just to add pollution-control retro-fits to their existing coal plants.  A 20-50x reduction in particulate emissions will do wonders for their air quality, but nothing for CO2 emissions.

Lets hope that they find that (as in the US) for new builds, coal with acceptable pollution controls costs more than cleaner options. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 12, 2014

Willem, what’s the point of comparing emissions by tons or efficiencies, when the U.S. creates three times as much CO2 per capita as China?

Simply labeling the Chinese “bad actors” and making “cleaning up their acts” prerequisite to action undertaken by the most privileged nation on earth – the one, not coincidentally, most responsible for current levels of atmospheric carbon – sounds like a massive abdication of responsibility to me.

AKA, a cop-out.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 13, 2014

Willem, I’m specifically addressing your last comment

NOTHING can be done regarding reducing CO2/GW, until bad actors, such as China, India, etc., clean up their acts, which will take many decades.

China’s failure to add particulate/SOX scrubbing systems has nothing to do with global CO2 – ironically, and despite the fact it’s unhealthful for people living there, Chinese aerosol emissions reflect sunlight into space, resulting in a net cooling effect. If you want to take the Chinese government to task for exposing their own people to bad air, I might point out it’s probably similar to what Americans living in large cities were exposed to in the early 20th century. After flue gas desulfurization became available in 1931, it took us 39 years to make it mandatory. Were we “bad actors” then? Of course not – both countries were simply making power availability a priority at a similar phase in their development.

All of this relates to quality-of-life issues, and thus per capita evaluation is relevant. Our per capita income is now eight and one-half times China’s so we are, by any standard, in a better position to afford the necessary expense of cleaning up our CO2.


NOTHING can be done regarding reducing CO2/GW, until bad actors, such as China, India, etc., clean up their acts, which will take many decades.

If this statement doesn’t make Chinese action on global warming prerequisite to our own, what did you mean by it?

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jul 15, 2014

Thanks Willem for the “Dark Snow” reference in “The Guardian.” Finally, a more comprehensive look at the human environmental impact is emerging. But if the problems are too many and too complex will that lead to complete inaction? Perhaps your sometimes expressed fatalism is more realistic than many of us are able to accept.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jul 15, 2014

I think we should at least enact “pollution tariffs” on everything, globally, to the degree that they are filtered. But we also emit exactly as much CO2 per ton of coal as they do (unless our coal has more hydrogen atoms in it, lol). Therefore, we can not enact a carbon tariff unless we do that to ourselves as well.

Robert Wilson's picture
Thank Robert for the Post!
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