China Delays Energy Data

Experts question missing efficiency reports.
An analysis by Michael Lelyveld
2011-09-12
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china-energy1-305.gif A coal fired power station in Huaibei in east China's Anhui province, Aug. 11, 2011.
AFP

China's government has been delaying the release of energy efficiency reports without explanation while considering new environmental goals, analysts say.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) appears to be more than a month late in reporting China's total energy use in the first half of the year as a proportion of Gross Domstic Product (GDP).

In 2010, the NBS issued its first-half "energy intensity" results on Aug. 3.

China energy expert Philip Andrews-Speed said the NBS has also omitted first-quarter reporting of the key conservation index, although officials have issued quarterly figures for much of the previous five years.

Last year, the government made a major push to meet Premier Wen Jiabao's goal of reducing energy use per unit of GDP by 20 percent from 2006 through 2010, hoping to curb energy waste from runaway economic expansion in 2003-2004.

The government largely succeeded, although it fell short of Wen's target, reporting a five-year energy saving of 19.06 percent in February.

For the 12th Five-Year Plan ending in 2015, Premier Wen set a slightly modest goal of improving efficiency by 16 percent, with a 3.5-percent target for 2011. But no results have been reported so far.

"Since then, we've seen almost nothing," said Andrews-Speed.

"There have been no adjustments of last year's figures, no reporting of the first quarter and no reporting of the first-half figures, not much in the papers exhorting people to save energy and not much mention of the current targets," he said.

On Sept. 7, the government repeated its five-year target in a report on its website at www.gov.cn, but it did not disclose the results so far this year.

Nothing good to report?

Analysts can only guess at the reasons for the silence, but one explanation is that the government has nothing good to report.

In the first quarter, some officials suggested that a 12.7-percent surge in electricity use was due to industries catching up on production after power cuts were imposed last year to meet Wen's 20-percent goal.

But after the second quarter, sectoral reports suggest that energy use has continued to grow faster than GDP rather than slower.

China's power consumption rose 12.2 percent from a year earlier in the first half, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA), while coal sales climbed 14 percent to 1.7 billion tons, the China National Coal Association said.

In the first five months, apparent oil consumption jumped 10.3 percent, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reported, before refinery shutdowns slowed the pace in June.

All the rates were considerably higher than China's GDP growth of 9.6 GDP growth in the first half, suggesting the energy intensity index rose rather than fell.

But part of the problem in estimating the outcome is that China's energy figures come from various sources, often as partial indicators of actual consumption.

"It's a constant problem with watching China's economic information," said Andrews-Speed. "You never know where it's coming from, and the same item can be reported by different organizations with different numerical values."

Cool down inflation

Aside from the confusion of energy data, there are signs that the government had a hard time reining in rampant construction and growth to help cool inflation.

First-half GDP far exceeded the official 8-percent target for the year, while monthly inflation has routinely topped 6 percent, compared with the government's   4-percent goal.

Rather than restricting high-energy construction industries, like steel and cement, the government has tried steer them into less profitable activities like affordable housing. But it is unclear that the strategy can slow the double-digit growth in energy use.

"The basic focus on investment in infrastructure and building seems to continue," said Andrews-Speed. "One might say that it's actually picked up, because the squeeze that was on to meet that target in 2010 has been relaxed and it's all go again."

Although doubts about the energy-saving effort abound, the government has been raising expectations for other measurements to control the environmental impact of China's growth.

So far, it is unclear whether the new measures are meant to supplement or divert attention from the missing energy intensity reports.

In July, a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen gave approval "in principle" to place a cap on total energy use for 2015 as part of a five-year "low-carbon" plan, Reuters reported.

In an article published this month, the State Council's Development and Research Center also argued that an "absolute emissions cap" is needed to promote carbon trading that could help curb greenhouse gases.

Wen also pledged to push carbon reductions while visiting senior scientists on Sept. 4, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The new focus on caps has encouraged environmental experts like Deborah Seligsohn, principle adviser to the World Resource Institute's China climate program in Beijing.

But last month, Seligsohn was also asked whether the government had issued its energy intensity results for the first half. "Not that I know of," she said.


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