China is using most energy in the world, not only because of its booming economy, but also because of its low energy efficiency, writes energy specialist Bill Dodson in the China Economic Review. The good news: China’s officials know they have a problem to fix, and look for ways to do so.
The average energy efficiency in Chinese buildings is relatively low, at about 50%, Li Bingren, chief economist of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said in late 2010. Even if that standard rose to 65% by 2020, Chinese buildings would still use 50% more energy for heating on average than developed countries with similar climates.
Lighting, heating and ventilating buildings uses more than a quarter of the power China generates, Li said. An additional 15% of the country’s energy is used for manufacturing and transporting building materials, and for constructing homes and offices, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Energy efficient approaches to building materials and construction could greatly reduce this voracious appetite for energy.
To a country that is one of the world’s largest importers of coal and oil, energy efficiency matters. China’s current energy plan, with its emphasis on the supply side of the energy equation, is akin to pouring an increasing amount of water into an expanding bucket full of holes. State media reports as early as 2006 claimed China would not be able to meet the energy demands of its buildings in 2020.
Energy efficiency would provide a way for China to reduce its use of fossil fuels without expensive outlays in alternative energy sources. Saving a kilowatt of power costs just a quarter of the amount used to generate a new kilowatt, said Barbara Finamore, founder and director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s China program. The NRDC estimates increased energy efficiency could cut China’s growth in energy demand in half by 2030.