The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates China last year consumed 2.265 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in energy from sources including coal, oil, natural gas, hydro and nuclear power, 4.4% more than the US.
But Zhou Xian, spokes- person for China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), said the IEA’s estimate of China’s energy consumption was too high. He said: “[It] could be used as a reference but is not very credible.”
“We believe that [IEA] did not understand fully the Chinese situation, in particular the efforts China made in energy saving, emission reductions and development in new energy sources,” said Zhou.
The IEA, adviser to 28 industrialised countries, is not the first provider of energy statistics to say China has become the top energy user.
According to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy, released in June, China including Hong Kong overtook the United States last year, using 2.20bn tonnes of oil equivalent compared with 2.182bn tonnes.
Zhou said China was still revising last year’s energy data, but already released figures that suggest it will take barely a year for China to overtake the US.
Data from a 2009 forecast by the US Department of Energy and the IEA showed China would not surpass the US until 2015.
China’s energy use has doubled since 2000 while that of the US has fallen slightly, according to the IEA’s latest figures.
“The most surprising thing is not that China overtook the United States in 2009, the most important thing is the fact that 10 years ago the US was consuming twice the energy that China was consuming,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said. “Ten years is not a very long period of time.”
“The internationally accepted definitions indicate that China surpassed the US,” he said, commenting on China’s denials.
China’s rise to the top ranking was faster than had been expected in part because the US has outpaced China in improving energy efficiency measures over the past decade.
Dai Yande, deputy head of China’s Energy Research Institute, a top government think-tank on energy policy, called the comment lacking “basic knowledge of energy”.
“This kind of comparison is ludicrous. The US has completed its industrialisation phase and China is in the middle of rapid industrialisation,” said Dai. “This is a totally wrong analysis.”
China’s energy demand growth also largely braved the global financial crisis that hit the US and Europe, with imports of coal and crude oil both hitting a record high and power consumption up 6.3% spurred by a runaway property sector.
The NEA spokesperson Zhou said that China has already exceeded the US in the pace of new energy utilisation.
He said china has the world’s largest installed capacity of hydropower, the largest solar use for water heating, the largest capacity of nuclear power generators under construction and the fastest growth in wind power development.
The NEA expects total primary energy consumption to reach 4.2 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2015, with coal itself contributing 2.67 billion tonnes to the total. or 63.6%, state media reported in June, a share down from 70% in 2009.