China's Energy Efficiency Increases 20% in 5 Years


Photo credit: Philip J├Ągenstedt via Flickr/CC BY

Ah, China. It's the giant emissions-belching, renewable energy-investing behemoth that everyone loves to analyze from their armchairs. Yes, it's the number one emitter of greenhouse gases. But it's also dumping more money into cleantech than anyone else. Yes, it still puts a coal plant online every week or so. But then it pulls off stuff like this: According to the Chinese government (not always the most reliable source), it has met its goal of bolstering nationwide energy efficiency by an impressive 20% over the last 5 years. And it wasn't easy -- Just read the description of how they managed to hit the mark: (Via the AP)

China met a five-year target to improve energy efficiency by cutting power to industry and imposing rolling blackouts, even though a massive economic stimulus increased energy use.

Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product was reduced by 20 percent from 2005 levels by the end of 2010, said Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Yes, imposed rolling blackouts and enforced power shortages to industry -- stateside, that's what we associate with Enron-scale corruption in utilities, or as the result of severe weather events. It's certainly not the kind of "energy efficiency" talk we're used to seeing touted in the American press.

The blackouts were a result of a sudden need to reduce energy use, after China was forced to implement a stimulus plan to revive its economy (China had managed to cut energy intensity levels by 14% in 2009). The stimulus plan was exceptionally energy-intensive, focusing on infrastructure-building, and required the use of tons of steel, cement, and other energy-hogging materials.

It's interesting to note the dedication China has displaying in achieving its target -- shutting down entire operations and even executing rolling blackouts. Surely there would have been some amount of embarrassment for the nation on the world's stage if it had missed its target, but that likely would have been minor. It's worth noting the difference in political culture: What do you think would have happened if the US had such an energy-reduction target to hit, but a sagging economy got in the way?

I can tell you with some certainty: We would have missed that mark.

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