China Energy-Saving Goal May be Hard to Achieve

2005-12-12
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Coal-fired power plant on the outskirts of the town of Kaili in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

China has announced an ambitious new energy-saving plan, but experts say its goal may be hard to achieve.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao confirmed the new efficiency target on December 12 at a summit meeting in Malaysia of East Asian leaders. China’s goal, Wen said, is to cut energy use per unit of GDP by about 20 percent by 2010.

David Fridley, a staff scientist at the U.S. Energy Department’s China Energy Group, said that this will be difficult to accomplish.

“It’s an enormously ambitious target,” Fridley said.

Fridley noted that to meet this goal, China would have to reduce its rise in energy consumption to only a fraction of the country’s expected economic growth. Chinese consumers and industries would have to do more with less, Fridley said.

Some Savings Possible

However, Singapore bureau chief for Energy Intelligence Weekly Sam Dale said that the government’s new goal will produce some energy savings. Dale pointed to the “long-term” nature of the program, adding “We would expect over time for this to have at least some impact.”

Implementation is going to be extremely, extremely difficult.

Promised market pricing of fuel may help to manage demand, Dale said. China’s government wants to exempt some 700 million farmers from price rises, though, said Dale, and the government may have to compensate by raising prices further on citizens in cities like Shanghai.

Price hikes should affect “those segments of the economy that can best afford it,” Dale said.

Rates Already High

Fridley said that rates in China for coal and electricity are already high.

“Because so many of China’s prices have been raised since the early 90s to the point where, for example, some coal prices in China are above international prices, there’s not a quick fix through the price mechanism that would give them a huge chunk of this savings that they’re looking for.”

“Implementation,” he concluded, “is going to be extremely, extremely difficult.”

Original reporting by Michael Lelyveld. Edited for the Web by Richard Finney.

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