As part of its Paris Agreement commitment, China pledged to peak carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions around 2030, striving to peak earlier, and to increase the non-fossil share of primary energy to 20% by 2030. Yet by the end of 2014, China emitted 28% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions, 79% of which were from coal use. How China can reinvent its energy economy cost-effectively while still achieving its commitments was the focus of a three-year joint “Reinventing Fire: China” research project completed in September 2016.
A team of Chinese and U.S. researchers developed a comprehensive bottom-up model of China’s energy demand and supply sectors and analyzed two scenarios to contrast a reference pathway of current development and a “Reinventing Fire” alternative path of meeting national needs by deploying the maximum feasible share of cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable supply through 2050. The results show that China’s CO2 emissions could peak 11 years earlier than the reference pathway if the more aggressive Reinventing Fire pathway is pursued.
This paper focuses on the role of energy efficiency in realizing the CO2 emissions reductions under the more aggressive pathway. We define energy efficiency broadly and include any actions that reduce energy demand through improved use of materials (e.g., longer product lifetimes), through energy intensity improvements, through structural shifts in industry from energy-intensive activities to more service-oriented activities as well as process and mode shifts in urbanization, industrialization, transport, societal consumption and awareness. In addition to energy efficiency, we identify opportunities for moving away from carbon-intensive fuels through fuel-switching. We found that for the Reinventing Fire Scenario, energy efficiency improvements and strategies contribute 75% of China’s 2050 total CO2 emissions reduction potential while fuel switching was only responsible for 25% of the emissions reduction. Barriers and additional policies needed to realize this significant cost-effective energy efficiency potential in China are discussed.