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For the first time in more than 100 years, the US is not the world's largest consumer of energy.  That distinction now belongs to China.

China's energy use is growing at an incredible speed.  Just 10 years ago China used only half as much energy as the US.  Today China consumes 4% more energy than the US, and over the next 5 years China will build 1,000 gigawatts of new power plants -- equivalent to all the electricity currently generated in the US.

It appears that China's demand for energy will continue to grow over time.  On a per capita basis China still uses only one-fifth as much energy as the US.  As China develops a larger middle class and a domestic consumer economy, its per capita consumption and overall demand will continue to grow.

What does this rapid growth in energy consumption mean?

In the short term it means that measurements of energy intensity -- the amount of energy required to produce a unit of GDP -- will be inherently unreliable in China.  Too much generation capacity is coming on line in too short a time period.  It will be difficult or impossible to know whether energy intensity has changed because of changes in efficiency or because of a mis-match between demand and new supply.

In the longer term it means that we all have a huge incentive to find alternative sources of energy.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

 


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