China leads global energy consumption

07/21/2010


Yesterday the International Energy Agency reported that China has overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consuming country. This wasn’t a surprise apparently, as the organization has expected this for some time. It did happen sooner than anticipated which is partly attributed to the fact that China’s economy has continued to grow while most of the rest of the world has been in economic doldrums. China's total energy consumption has doubled over the last decade, so even when the U.S. recovers we probably won't regain our old position.

The encouraging bit of news from the report is that China has been doing a good job on two important fronts. First, it has made major strides in renewable energy sources. Second, its industries have reduced the energy input required per unit of output. In other words, China's manufacturing is becoming more efficient.

There is one area where China has a very long way to go, and that is per capita energy consumption. The average person over there uses 20% of the average person here. Of course there are vast areas of the rural hinterlands with little energy infrastructure, so a more interesting statistic might be to compare the more urbanized coastal regions. Even so, I can’t imagine that a typical resident of Beijing or Shanghai is a profligate as most Americans.

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