China has overtaken the U.S. as the world’s biggest consumer of energy in the most tangible evidence yet of the coming dominance of the Chinese economy.
According to data from the International Energy Agency in Paris, China consumed 2,252 million tons of oil equivalent in 2009, about 4% more than the 2,170 tons consumed by the U.S.
While China was forecast to overtake the U.S. in energy consumption eventually, the changing of the guard has taken place sooner than expected largely because the global recession hit the U.S. much harder than it did China.
The news is likely to make energy markets more sensitive than ever to economic developments in China as prices fluctuate according to expected demand in that economy.
“The fact that China overtook the U.S. as the world's largest energy consumer symbolizes the start of a new age in the history of energy,” Fatih Birol, chief economist of the Paris-based IEA, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
According to Birol, the U.S. had been the biggest energy consumer for more than a century. The measurement of oil equivalent includes all sources of energy – all fossil fuels, renewable and alternative energies.
The U.S. remains the biggest consumer of energy on a per capita basis, Birol said, using five times as much energy as China by that measure.
China relies heavily on coal to generate much of its energy, and is one of the world’s biggest importers of coal as well as one of its biggest producers. But China has been scouring the globe for energy deals in oil and gas – in Africa, Australia, Latin America and wherever it can secure long-term energy supplies. It is also pushing ahead with development of unconventional oil and gas resources at home as well as renewables like sun and wind.
A decade ago, the U.S. consumed twice as much energy as China, Birol noted in other press interviews. The shift in relationship is due in part to increased energy efficiency in the U.S.
The IEA, which produces data and reports for countries in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, has urged China to join the energy group even though it does not belong to the OECD.
By Darrell Delamaide for OilPrice.com