While it’s definitely one of those historic moments, The Wall St. Journal’s story today, China Passes U.S. as World's Biggest Energy Consumer has to be met with more of a “What took so long?” than any real shock, or even surprise.
According to the article, which is based on new data from the Paris-based International Energy Agency, “…China devoured a total of 2,252 million tons of oil equivalent last year, or about 4% more than the U.S., which burned through 2,170 million tons of oil equivalent. The oil-equivalent metric represents all forms of energy consumed, including crude oil, nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewable sources such as hydropower.”
Anyone who’s surprised by this has to be living in a bubble. We knew it was coming, eventually. You can’t have 1.3 billion people in a country with an economy growing at over 8% and not expect it to overtake everyone else with respect to energy consumption at some point, real soon.
Notice I say 1.3 billion, like many others I just throw it out there, as a rough guide, but according to the CIA (and I guess they’d know) it’s actually 1,330,141,295 (July 2010). But hey, what’s 30.14 million here or there, right? It’s still big. Really big, which offsets its relatively low population growth rate of 0.5%.
This is why the comments to that same WSJ article are a bit off point. The highly informed readers debate whether energy use should be measured in terms of GDP or on a per-capita basis. It's kind of like standing next to a tall building that's falling on your and debating whether its height should be measured relative to ground or sea level.
Maybe those metrics are more useful for the bean counters, but the article’s point was that a milestone was reached, in this case using the oil equivalent metric. And that’s worth noting.
It’s also worth noting that China is very much aware of its growing energy needs and as early as 2005, it enacted a very aggressive Renewable Energy Law.
While the U.S. sets up debates, councils, task groups, focus groups and special panels, China is pursuing the intent of that law with the same vigor and focus as it does with everything else. And it shows.
According to a new report by the same International Energy Agency, China's efforts are bearing fruit, to the extent that in 2009, “China added 37 GW of renewable power capacity, more than any other country in the world, to reach 226 GW of total renewables capacity. Globally, nearly 80 GW of renewable capacity was added, including 31 GW of hydro and 48 GW of non-hydro capacity.”
Again, it’s all stats and they can be played any which way, but it’s still interesting how fast a focused effort can impact the energy conundrum -- and how a headline or one side of a story can paint a bleaker or more negative impression than necessary.