China Passes U.S. as World's Biggest Energy Consumer, IEA Says

China overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest energy user last year, emphasizing that developing nations are driving global growth, according to the International Energy Agency.

China consumed 2,252 million metric tons of oil equivalent in 2009 in the form of crude, coal, natural gas, nuclear power and renewable sources, IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said yesterday. That exceeded the 2,170 million tons used by the U.S.

“It’s one of those major turning points,” Tilak Doshi, the chief economist at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore, said in a phone interview. “China is growing by leaps and bounds. You’ve got OECD countries where you’re talking about oil demand peaking, meanwhile the emerging countries like China and India will keep growing their energy demand.”

China’s gross domestic product expanded 10.3 percent in the second quarter even as the government took measures to cool growth. China, with Hong Kong included, was the biggest energy user in 2009, consuming 2.2 billion tons of oil equivalent, BP Plc said in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy in June. The U.S. was second and Russia ranked third, BP said.

“As China overtakes the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer, it is not only a domestic issue for China, but has repercussions for the rest of the world not only in supply terms, but also in how the energy is consumed,” Birol said in an interview by phone from Paris. “If China uses electric cars, hybrids and so on, they will impose the manufacturing line on most of the rest of the world.”

China Skeptical

The IEA’s data are “not very credible,” Zhou Xi’an, head of the National Energy Administration’s general office, said at a media briefing in Beijing today.

“When the IEA came to China to publish its energy outlook a couple of days ago, they also over-estimated China’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions,” Zhou said. “We think that’s because of a lack of knowledge about China, especially about China’s latest developments of energy conservation and renewable energy.”

At the same time China increases its use of fossil fuels, it is boosting renewable energy projects. The nation may spend about 5 trillion yuan ($738 billion) in the next decade developing cleaner sources of energy to reduce emissions from burning oil and coal, Jiang Bing, head of the National Energy Administration’s planning and development department, said in Beijing today.

China’s oil imports gained 48 percent last year and have almost doubled since 2005, according to customs data. The nation increased net crude imports to a record 22.1 million tons in June, or about 5.4 million barrels a day, customs figures show.

Declining Output

Global oil supplies will become “tighter” after 2015 as a result of declining production outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and growing control of reserves by state-run producers, Birol said.

The U.S. remains the largest oil consumer, using 843 million tons in 2009, more than double China’s 405 million, according to BP. China burnt 1,537 million tons of coal last year, compared with 498 million in the U.S., BP said.

The reliance on coal saw China surpass the U.S. in carbon emissions in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. China released 6.533 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2008, compared with 5.832 million for the U.S.

“When we look at the countries who are engines of global energy-demand growth, namely China, China, China, India and Middle East, then I am a bit more optimistic,” Birol said.

The IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook on supply and demand through to 2035, to be released in November, will focus on three particular topics, he said.

These will be the cost of renewable energy sources; costs faced by the energy industry following the failure to reach an accord in Copenhagen; and the diversion of oil supplies in the Caspian Sea region from Europe to Asia.

The IEA is an adviser to 28 developed nations, all of whom are also members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Total energy consumption in Mtoe  US    China
2000                              2270  1107
2001                              2228  1104
2002                              2254  1193
2003                              2260  1356
2004                              2306  1576
2005                              2317  1707
2006                              2295  1865
2007                              2333  1977
2008                              2281  2131
2009 (e)                          2169  2252

To contact the reporters on this story: Grant Smith in London at gsmith52@bloomberg.net; Christian Schmollinger in Singapore at christian.s@bloomberg.net

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