China’s spectacular economic growth over the past decade has been accompanied by a major increase in energy consumption. In 2009, China consumed more energy than the United States for the first time according to a report from the International Energy Agency which was discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article. China consumed 2.252 billion tons of oil equivalent last year which was 4 percent higher than U.S. consumption. The United States was the world’s largest energy user for over a century.
One interesting aspect of China’s energy picture is the fact that coal accounts for two-thirds of supply compared to 57 percent of the total in 2000. The following graphic from the Wall Street Journal compares energy sources for the United States and China in 2009.
The United States has much more diversity in terms of energy sources and far less reliance on coal. China has the lead in renewable energy while the United States makes much more use of natural gas, oil, and nuclear energy. Given the disproportionate impact of coal burning power plants on carbon emissions, China’s composition of energy sources may have to change going forward.
One additional factor as Chinese society grows richer is that demand for motor fuels derived from oil will inevitably increase. As we pointed out recently, developing countries may find it more practical to deploy highly efficient internal combustion engines rather than focusing exclusively on electric vehicle fleets.