Electricity Consumption and Renewable Usage Have Increased in China While Steady Energy Intensity Has Decreased

Electricity Consumption and Renewable Usage Have Increased in China While Steady Energy Intensity Has Decreased

Figures for China’s electricity consumption and the energy mix behind it differ across various relevant monitors. The International Energy Agency states China’s electricity consumption for 2018 was roughly 6.833 Terawatt Hours (TWh)—an increase of nearly 1079% since 1990. Coal-generated and hydro-generated electricity made up the largest proportion of the country’s energy usage, followed by wind and nuclear power. Industry and residential consumption accounted for the biggest chunks of these usage levels.

The China Electricity Council published electricity consumption information for the first ten months of 2020 and showed levels to be at 6.030,6 TWh—an increase of 1.8% year-on-year. The Statistical Yearbook of China published a total electricity production of 7.503,43 TWh for 2019, but electricity consumption figures were only available for 2018 with levels of 6.844,9 TWh—up from 623 TWh in 1990. China’s Electricity Council further states that thermal power (coal, oil, gas, residual heat, pressure and gas, waste incineration and biomass) in 2018 and 2019 accounted for nearly 70%, hydro power for more than 17%, and nuclear for 4.6%. Wind made up more than 5% with solar only reaching 2.5%. Coal has traditionally been overwhelmingly abundant in the country and thermal power accounts for a large proportion of energy production in different power generation methods, so it has always been the main source of power generation. However, the share of renewable energy in the energy mix is growing. Hydropower, solar power, wind power, and biomass account for 63.73%, 19.89%, 10.10%, and 5.45% (respectively) of the total renewables share; these levels show an increase of 5.7%, 10.9%, 26.3%, and 20.4% (respectively) on a yearly basis.

In regards to trade, China imported 504 million tons of crude oil and 90 million tons of natural gas in the first 11 months of 2020 (an increase of 9.5% and 3.9%, respectively, from 2019). As well, China imported 265 million tons of coal (10.8% less than the same period of 2019).

In general, the adjustment of China’s energy consumption by fuel type has seen the share of coal (in total energy consumed) decline while the share of oil has gradually increased. Meanwhile, the share of natural gas has rapidly increased and the utilization of nuclear and renewables has rapidly increased.

While overall electric and energy consumption have been steadily increasing since 1990, energy intensity per unit GPD has been continuously decreasing thanks to major efforts in addressing the energy efficiency in industry, residential, construction or transport as well as continual energy structure reform over the past decades. Among the many policies introduced throughout the duration of the 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans, greener building codes in construction aim to make the constructed environment more energy efficient. The national strategy of new energy vehicles (2010) and the efforts to electrify the transport system, in combination with increased investments into renewable energy, may well prove to be crucial for achieving China’s carbon neutrality strategy. Energy-efficient production technologies, innovation-promoting programs such as “Made in China 2025”, and policy innovation focused on energy consumption reduction have greatly helped reduce energy intensity in China’s industrial sector.

The coal industry has undergone some changes with older plants shutting down, thus allowing for the development of new plants with “cleaner” technologies. According to the China National Coal Association (CNCA), China has cut 900 million metric tons of old coal capacity so far and resettled one million coal mine employees. Coal is predicted to continue playing a role in the country’s energy profile, albeit a stagnant one. Several of the structurally weaker provinces, like the Northeast and Inner Mongolia, continue to rely on the development of the coal industry in the absence of cleaner economic opportunities. With governments striving to ensure adequate employment opportunities, more needs to be done to effectively reskill workers, establish cleaner economic opportunities, and make sustainably viable in the long-run. In regards to China’s 14th Five-Year-Plan, the CNCA predicts large-scale coal mines will resort to professional service providers for employee hiring and discharge as employee settlement continues to be challenging with shutdowns of old and small-scale coal mines during supply-side reforms.


Much has been done during the past Five-Year-Plans to balance economic development and prosperity for society while reigning in pollution and emissions. Many existing policies are expected to continue being prosperous, or even strengthened, during the 14th Five-Year Plan. In addition, several key areas emerge as important for any strategy to successfully achieve carbon neutrality by 2060:

  • Clear caps on carbon emissions, not just carbon intensity and energy consumption caps. As overall carbon emissions have continued to increase with the expansion of China’s economy and production base, carbon intensity targets alone will not be sufficient guidance to cap overall emissions.
  • Improved emissions and consumption monitoring systems to be able to provide consistent and current statistics to China’s public as well as to international agencies. Data transparency would help China facilitate tracking of progress and make real-time decisions for adjustments. It would also assist in building China’s credibility for climate leadership in the international community.
  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal, for power generation and a careful evaluation of what is considered “clean energy”. For example, China considers shale gas to be a clean energy alternative to provide fuel for heating. The country produced 15.4 billion cubic meters of shale gas in 2019. While the gas itself may burn with lower CO2 emissions, the process of fracking is mired in controversy as the released methane during fracking holds the potential to be more damaging to the environment than the actual CO2 from the combustion process.
  • An exit strategy from coal power accompanied by a comprehensive green employment and development program. It is imperative that this strategy address the needs of de-industrialized communities such as: including developing green energy alternatives, re-training and replacing coal industry workers, and alleviating severe unemployment in structurally weak coal-reliant provinces (e.g. the Northeast and Inner Mongolia).
  • Small- and medium-sized companies ought to relinquish old, high-energy technology in favor of more energy efficient processes as well as have long-term green financing and consulting options. While access to tailored green credit is one element to support positive change, local companies often need access to knowledge of better energy efficiency-technology as well as support in selecting the best technology for their operations and situation. This calls for availability of adequate and affordable consultancy services in addition to green financing tools.


Premier Li Keqiang / 李克强总理

Website: http://topic.media.gov.cn/topicdata/en/2020/index.html

Jianhua Zhang, Chair of the World Energy Council China Committee

Address: 38 S. Yuetan Street, Sanlihe, Beijing

Telephone: +8610 68589255

Website: https://www.worldenergy.org/impact-communities/members/entry/china

Learn More

Statistical Yearbook of China 2019: http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/PressRelease/202002/t20200228_1728917.html

Statistics of China Power Industry 2018 in: https://english.cec.org.cn/detail/index.html?3-794

Oil majors expand wind power campaign in: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/09/WS5fd023ffa31024ad0ba9ab8b.html

China’s latest trading data surprises the market in: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/09/WS5fd06583a31024ad0ba9ad0c.html

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the Climate Ambition Summit via video link on Dec 12, 2020. – indicates new NDCs


Dong2017_Article_AReviewOfChinaSEnergyConsumpti.pdf in: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12182-016-0136-z

Climate change: China’s coal addiction clashes with Xi’s bold promise in: https://www.ft.com/content/9656e36c-ba59-43e9-bf1c-c0f105813436


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard  China Country Manager Annette Weidenbach

Leave a Reply


Climate change is real, and what governments do matters.

Help us work with key stakeholders globally to ensure continued support of the The Paris Agreement.