China puts hard target on energy use

China’s plan for the next five years will put a hard target on overall energy use, capping consumption at four billion tonnes of coal equivalent (TCE) by 2015, Xinhua news agency quoted the country’s former energy chief Zhang Guobao as saying on Friday.

Zhang, who retired earlier this year as head of the National Energy Administration, said the energy cap would be a mandatory ceiling in China’s 12th five-year plan.

Experts had been expecting a mandatory energy consumption cap to appear in the plan, but said the critical issue was whether or not the figure would be made public.

“To have an absolute energy target—everyone knows that’s mainly a coal consumption target—is already a very big step forward,” said Ailun Yang, China campaign manager with Greenpeace.

China’s energy use was 3,25-billion tonnes of coal equivalent in 2010, up 5,9% year on year, government data showed. It was expected to rise by 4,24% annually in 2011-2015, Zhang said.

The cap allows considerable room for growth. China could add the equivalent of India’s current primary energy consumption by 2015 and still meet the target, according to a Reuters calculation based on Zhang’s figures and the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

China aims to reduce 2005 levels of carbon intensity—the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of gross domestic product—by 40% to 45% by 2020, and a target for the 2011 to 2015 period is also expected to be included in the new five-year plan.

Premier Wen Jiabao said last weekend that China would cut energy and carbon intensity by 16% to 17% over the period.

Wen did not make a distinction between the two targets, but experts suggest energy intensity would need to fall 20% if China was to achieve an 18% carbon intensity reduction.

Energy mix
“With this [energy cap], you could wind up with different CO2 numbers based on what the mix of fossil fuels is,” said Deborah Seligsohn, a Beijing-based climate policy expert working for the World Resources Institute.

“But they are trying to move to using more gas, which is good for emissions.
The only question is what the mix of coal to oil to gas is, and whether they exceed their targets for renewables, which they may do.”

China used a series of punishing “administrative” measures to try to meet a target to reduce 2005 levels of energy intensity by 20% by the end of last year, forcing thousands of energy-guzzling enterprises across the country to shut down after cutting off their power supplies.

But it still fell short. Zhang said the amount of energy produced per unit of economic growth dropped 19,1% over the 2006 to 2010 period.

Beijing will hope to rely more on market-based measures to meet its new target, and proposals are now under consideration. Guangdong province in the south-west of the country has already devised a scheme that will allow its cities to trade energy consumption permits with each other.

Zhang also said China would aim to raise the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 11,4% of total primary energy use by the end of 2015, a mandatory target that would put the country on course to meet its 2020 target of 15%.

Xinhua said non-fossil fuels accounted for 8% of primary energy consumption now.

A 2015 cap of four billion TCE implies China’s total energy use can rise by up to 4,24% per year in 2011 to 2015.

If the two figures are comparable and total energy consumption rises by the maximum allowed under the new cap, non-fossil fuels consumption will have to grow by 11,9% per year, a Reuters calculation showed.

Much of the increase is expected to come from the country’s ambitious hydropower expansion programme, which will see another 140 gigawatts of capacity go into operation by the end of 2015.

It will also include nuclear power, with total nuclear capacity expected to rise to around 50 gigawatts by the end of the five-year period. - Reuters

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