The Daily Californian Online

Study: China's energy consumption to level off within 20 years

By Anjuli Sastry
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, May 2, 2011
Category: News > University > Research and Ideas

China's energy consumption is expected to stabilize within 20 years if policy developments in environmental sustainability and energy efficiency are implemented, according to a new study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's China Energy Group released April 27.

Contrary to popular belief that China's energy use and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise above other countries' usage, the study takes into account the long-term impact of China's energy improvements and the strength of its policy changes in determining China's energy levels' eventual peak and levelling off around 2035.

The study is different from past macroeconomic research that solely factor in a country's Gross Domestic Product to calculate energy consumption and instead focuses on constant appliance usage that will eventually flatten out due to decreased demand - a process known as "saturation" - according to Mark Levine, lead author of the report and leader of the China Energy Group.

"It's a way of looking at China's energy in terms of current and future scenarios and the consumption versus supply side," said Nina Zheng, co-author of the report and senior research associate at the China Energy Group. "It takes current policies and actions into consideration, such as how people use appliances and how lighting will effect the whole country and its consumption emissions."

The two scenarios the study used to predict consumption were a "continued improvement scenario," which saw energy consumption rates declining between 2030 and 2035, and an aggressive "accelerated improvement scenario," which required more resources and rapid policy implementation to level off energy rates in 2025, according to Zheng.

The likelihood of either scenario and rate of occurrence depends on energy demand for household appliances, consumption of iron and steel to construct homes and railroads and overall installation of renewable energy, said Nan Zhou, a co-author of the report.

"While China will put pressure on oil demand, a point will be reached when it will really be stabilized, and that could happen earlier if they had electric vehicles implemented on a larger scale," Levine said.

Though China surpassed the United States in 2007 as the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, the country's switch to electric cars, expansion of nuclear power and reduction in coal usage for energy production in the coming decades are just a few of the many policy changes that convince scientists of China's energy consumption eventual levelling off and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

"Even if China were to do nothing to reduce emissions associated with the supply of energy - which is largely coal - China has always tried to change the fuel mix of energy supply, and it won't be a large culprit regarding CO2 emissions," Levine said.

A similar report released by the Imperial London College last month also looked at the non-fossil fuel power generation and energy-inefficient emissions - something that will have a significant impact on trends in China, according to members of the China Energy Group.

"There's a common notion that China will dominate the world," Zhou said. "Our conclusion tells us that China will not grow infinitely, they will reach a peak and plateau when their economy is developed. Until they reach their peak level, the Chinese have the right to improve their living standards."

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