In this guide, we provide a summary/breakdown of energy in China.
We look at consumption, production, energy sources, energy mix, energy use by industry, and a forecast for future energy use.
Summary – Energy In China
Energy Use Compared To The Rest Of The World
Some available data indicates that China is currently producing enough electrical energy to completely supply it’s own electrical energy consumption needs
Total Primary Energy Consumption
China has a higher total primary energy consumption than the United States
And, China’s total primary energy consumption has recently been growing on an annual basis
Total Electricity Consumption
China’s recent figures show that is has the highest total electricity output, consumption and installed capacity in the world
Per Capita Electricity Consumption
Despite ranking first in the world total primary energy consumption and total electricity consumption, China has a far lower per capita electricity energy usage of 3,995 kWh per person compared to the US at 11,927 kWh per person
Energy Use By Industry Or Sector
Most recently, the large majority of China’s energy use happens in the industrial sector
The electricity generation industry is a major energy user within the industrial sector, and 6 industries are responsible for the most overall energy use in the industrial sector in China
Comparatively, the United States has most of it’s energy use occur in a more equal share of the industrial and transportation sectors
Total Energy Production
Some reports indicate that China produces more electricity than it consumes i.e. it can internally meet it’s own electricity needs
Where China Get’s It’s Energy From – Most Commonly Used Energy Sources, & Energy Mix
China currently gets the large majority of it’s energy from coal (almost 60% according to recent figures), with crude oil in second at almost 20%
It would be fair to say China is highly dependent on fossil fuels for energy right now
Some reports say that since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world combined
In addition to total energy consumption, China also gets most of it’s electricity from coal too
According to some estimates, installed capacity of coal is not expected to peak until 2025
In comparison, the US gets most of it’s energy – over 50% – from natural gas and oil
Energy mixes can differ on a state/province, or city based level, compared to the national trends as a whole – state and local governments can have some say in this
Installed Energy Capacity
China’s installed capacity of coal far outweighs the installed capacity of any other energy source right now
One forecast on installed capacity in China by 2040 shows that although coal will grow slightly, solar and wind will grow significantly, with natural gas, hydro and nuclear also growing
Having said this – it should be noted that there is a difference between installed capacity, and end use power
Recent Energy Trends
Energy production and final electricity consumption have consistently been increasing in China from 1990 up until 2018
Additionally, in terms of % share of energy, some graphs show coal starting to decrease, oil largely staying the same, and natural gas use and renewable energy use increasing
Future Energy Forecast
In terms of energy forecasts for the future …
Total energy consumption is expected to increase
And, there’s a strong emphasis that China would like to decrease coal’s % share of the total energy mix, and natural gas and renewables will likely increase in their % share
Even though natural gas, renewables and other energy sources could increase as a % of the energy mix, absolute coal consumption could still increase in the future in China
China may have some challenges and difficulties transitioning from coal in the future
China also has the challenge in the future of turning installed renewable energy capacity into power that is actually being used in the power grid for electricity
*Note that installed capacity doesn’t mean the energy is always being used – there has to be a reliable way to transfer/transmit the energy into an electricity grid via infrastructure like lines and converters
Renewable Energy – Trends & Forecast
China is already the world’s largest renewable energy producer
China is also the largest producer of hydroelectricity, solar power and wind power in the world
Solar and wind in particular are forecast to grow in the future
Transport & Heating
Total primary energy consumption and total primary energy production are a representation of the different ways we use energy in society
Along with electricity generation, a few other major ways we use energy are in transport (like for example with petroleum products), and also in heating (like for example with natural gas)
It’s worth noting that some reports indicate that China has a cumulative share of global investment in electric vehicles of almost 50%
General Notes On Energy
There’s a difference between the % share a specific energy source might make up of a country’s energy mix, and the total amount of that energy source being used. For example, % share of renewables might go up in a 30 year period, but this could be caused simply by the total amount of renewable energy use increasing instead of the total amount of fossil fuels being used reducing. In this instance, the potential negative effects of fossil fuels like emissions and air pollutants might not actually reduce
When looking at renewables as an energy source, different types of renewables can make up different % shares e.g. solar or hydroelectric might make up more than wind for example
Fossil fuels, nuclear and other types of energy sources in the future might start specialising or diverging into sub-types e.g. clean coal technology vs regular coal
Electrification of cars (moving away from oil based fuel) and other vehicles could have a significant impact on the overall energy and electricity mix of a country
The Different Ways Energy Can Be Measured
Before looking at energy and electricity use, it’s worth being aware of the different ways energy can potentially be measured.
Oil, gas, and coal use can all be measured in different units
Additionally, electricity can be measured according to it’s production, and heat the same.
eia.gov outlines that:
[the different measurements of energy might be:]
liquid fuels in barrels or gallons, natural gas in cubic feet, coal in short tons, and electricity in kilowatts and kilowatt hours …
In the United States, British thermal units (Btu), a measure of heat energy, is commonly used for comparing different types of energy to each other.
Total Primary Energy Consumption In China
Total primary energy consumption takes into account all energy consumption, as opposed to just one type of energy consumption.
According to knoema.com:
[In 2018, China’s total primary energy consumption was 147.57 quadrillion Btu]
[Overall, China’s total primary energy consumption has been growing every year] … at an average annual rate of 7.27%
Total Electricity Consumption In China
Total electricity consumption takes into account only energy used to generate electricity – it does not take into account other forms of energy used for heating, transport, and so on.
China’s total electricity output, consumption and installed capacity are all currently the highest in the world.
According to iea.org:
[In 2018, China’s total electricity consumption was 6880.1 TWh]
wikipedia.org also has some 2013 stats:
[In 2013] China’s total annual electricity output was 5.398 trillion kWh and the annual consumption was 5.380 trillion kWh with an installed capacity of 1247 GW (all the largest in the world).
Per Capita Electricity Consumption In China
According to worlddata.info:
[Based on a] total consumption of energy [figure] in China [of] 5,564.00 billion kWh of electric energy per year … [this equates to a] Per capita … average of 3,995 kWh
This is despite China consuming more total electricity
Energy Use By Sector Or Industry In China
The industrial sector is currently responsible for almost 70% of China’s energy consumption
And, there’s about 6 industries within the industrial sector that are responsible for most of that energy consumption
In 2015, most of China’s energy use … came from the industrial sector, with 67.9 percent of the country’s energy use … due to manufacturing, agriculture, and construction.
… power production activities [also used a significant amount of coal energy].
In the industrial sector, six industries – electricity generation, steel, non-ferrous metals, construction materials, oil processing and chemicals – account for nearly 70% of energy use.
How Much Energy China Produces
The latest data on energy production in China indicates that China produces enough electricity to completely provide for its own needs
China produces 5,883 bn kWh from electric energy producing facilities, compared to it’s consumption of 5,564.00 billion kWh
Comparatively, the United States’ energy production is lower than China’s
Where China Gets Its Energy From – Most Commonly Used Energy Sources, & Energy Mix
If you’d like a description of primary vs secondary energy sources, and the different energy sources, you can read this guide.
Additionally, you can read about the energy mixes of the major countries in the world in this guide.
But, when it comes to China specifically, fossil fuels make up majority of energy production.
Coal in particular is the energy source that is used the most for energy consumption by a significant margin.
China’s energy consumption in 2019 was attributed to the following energy sources in the following % shares:
Coal – 57.7%
Crude Oil – 18.9%
Renewables & Other – 15.3
Natural Gas – 8.1%
Since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world combined.
From 1990 to 2015, China increased its coal consumption from 1.05 billion tons to 3.97 billion tons.
Which Energy Source China Uses Most Specifically For Electricity Generation
Separate to total energy consumption is primary energy sources used specifically for electricity generation.
The story is the same here with coal being the predominant energy source.
Roughly 72 percent of the electrical power generated in China in 2015 came from coal-powered plants
The wikipedia.org resource in the sources list provides a thorough breakdown on China’s electricity sector as a whole.
China’s Installed Energy Capacity
Installed energy capacity is the current capacity for each energy source.
But, installed energy capacity is different to end energy use.
Factors such as power being lost before it gets into the grid, power plants not being used all the time, and other factors, and lead to a substantial difference between installed capacity and actual end energy use.
Coal by far has the most significant installed capacity right now, but renewables like solar and wind are expected to grow significantly in the future, along with some growth in gas and nuclear too.
In 2016, the installed capacity by technology of each energy source in China in Gigawatts was:
Coal – 945GW
Hydro – 332GW
Wind – 149GW
Solar – 77GW
Gas – 67GW
Nuclear – 34GW
Bioenergy – 12GW
Oil – 9GW
In 2040, the installed capacity by technology of each energy source in China in Gigawatts is forecast to be:
Coal – 1087GW
Solar – 738GW
Wind – 593GW
Hydro – 493GW
Gas – 219GW
Nuclear – 145GW
Bioenergy – 49GW
Oil – 0GW
[To illustrate the point of installed capacity vs actual end use energy and electricity consumption:]
Already today, some 15% of China’s wind and solar PV generation is being curtailed because it cannot be accommodated by the existing power system … a major investment in new power transmission lines [could ease these problems]
China’s Recent Energy Trends
Energy Production & Consumption
IEA.org shows several graphs that that show that both energy production and final electricity consumption have consistently been increasing in China from 1990 up until 2018.
Energy Sources/Energy Mix
chinapower.csis.org shows an energy consumption graph that shows that (from 1990 to 2019, and as a % share):
– Coal use is decreasing
– Oil use is largely the same, but has slightly increased
– Both natural gas use, and renewables and ‘other’ energy source use, are both increasing
Forecasts For China’s Energy Future
Energy forecasts are generally an educated guess, due to different variables.
But, from several reports on China’s energy future, a general forecast might be:
– Total energy consumption will increase
– Solar and wind installed capacity will increase significantly
– Gas, nuclear, and hydro energy installed capacity will increase, although not as significantly as solar and wind
– Coal installed capacity will only increase slightly
China’s investment in installed renewable energy capacity means that several forecasts project renewable energy as a % of China’s energy mix to grow significantly, even if absolute coal use increases.
There is strong emphasis on decreasing coal’s % share of the overall energy mix.
In addition to renewable energy’s % share increasing, natural gas and nuclear might also see a % share increase.
It’s expected China’s energy demand will continue into the future
But, the New Policies Scenario is expected to slow average energy demand – this is due to structural shifts in the economy, strong energy efficiency policies and demographic changes
The Chinese government set a target to raise non fossil fuel energy consumption to … 20% by 2030 …
In addition, China is currently increasing its use of natural gas to replace some coal and oil as a cleaner burning fossil fuel …
… higher energy efficiency and China’s goal to increase environmental sustainability are likely to lead to a decrease in coal’s share [in China’s energy mix]
[But, absolute coal consumption will still increase]
Over the last decade, China’s investment in renewable energy and natural gas has surged.
China is becoming the largest market in the world for renewable energy.
It is estimated that 1 in every 4 gigawatts of global renewable energy will be generated by China through 2040.
Some forecasts put the future primary energy mix at:
Non fossil fuels to grow to 25.5% by 2035, and 35% by 2050
Coal will steadily decline to 42.5% by 2035, and 33% by 2050
Gas will steadily increase to 15% by 2035 by 2035, and 17% by 2050
Oil will steadily decrease to 17% by 2035, and 15% by 2050
[It’s expected] China’s growing energy needs are increasingly met by renewables, natural gas and electricity while coal demand falls back.
… the share of coal in total generation falls from two-thirds today to less than 40% in 2040 as a result
Further forecasts and projections on China’s energy future can be found in the dbs.com, nextbigfuture.com, and cleantechnica.com resources in the sources list
Renewable Energy Production & Consumption In China – Present & Future
According to wikipedia.org and chinapower.csis.org (paraphrasing from some of their information), China is currently:
– The world’s largest renewable energy producer
– The largest producer of hydroelectricity, solar power and wind power in the world
The IEA resource also shows how renewable energy electricity consumption has grown from 1990 to 2018 for hydro, solar and wind.
The Wikipedia resources in the sources list below has some more information on renewable energy shares as a % of energy mix in China.
Above in this guide are forecasts on installed capacity of different energy sources in the year 2040.
Renewables like solar and wind are expected to grow in installed capacity as a % share.
This aligns with what the Chinese government has indicated, in that they intend to keep investing in, or growing renewable energy.
For example, China has committed to renewables fulfilling 20% of total energy supply by 2030, which would be roughly just over a 6% increase.
As we have outlined above though, installed capacity does not always equate to actually using power from those energy sources.
Commitments are obviously different to executing energy plans in reality.
chinapower.csis.org indicates that there could be some challenges in growing the solar market in the future in China though, such as over saturation of the market, and trade disputes with the US.
We’ve also previously written about some of China’s potential challenges in moving away from coal to other energy sources like renewables.
China’s Investment In Electric Cars
China’s cumulative share of global investment in electric vehicles is at 46% at present – so China’s electric vehicle future looks strong
Aside from electricity generation and energy for transport, energy for heating and cooling is one of the other major areas that energy is used in society.
We will come back and update this section when more information is available
Energy Mix In Other Countries Worldwide
Read more about the energy mix of different major countries worldwide in this guide.