China’s energy consumption should stabilize soon

Despite the way China’s economy continues to expand, its energy use is likely to level off in the next couple of decades, say researchers at Berkeley Lab.

China overtook the United States in 2007 as the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases. But well before mid-century, says the team, its energy use will flatten, even as its population edges past 1.4 billion.

According to the forecast, the steeply rising curve of energy demand in China will begin to moderate between 2030 and 2035 and flatten thereafter, thanks to consumer goods saturation.

“Once nearly every household owns a refrigerator, a washing machine, air conditioners and other appliances, and once housing area per capita has stabilized, per household electricity growth will slow,” says Mark Levine, co-author of the report.

Similarly, China will reach saturation in road and rail construction before 2035 time frame, resulting in very large decreases in iron and steel demand. Other energy-intensive industries will also see demand for their products flatten.

The report also anticipates the widespread use of electric cars, a significant drop in reliance on coal for electricity generation, and a big expansion in the use of nuclear power, all of which will help drive down China’s CO2 emissions.

The team examined two scenarios. Under the more aggressive version, energy consumption begins to flatten in 2025, just 14 years from now. The more conservative scenario sees energy consumption rates beginning to taper in 2030.

“I think this is very good news,” says Levine. “There’s been a perception that China’s rising prosperity means runaway growth in energy consumption. Our study shows this won’t be the case.”