28 October 2011

China’s Energy Security: The Perspective of Energy Users

Malavika Jain Bambawale and Benjamin K. Sovacool, China’s Energy Security: The Perspective of Energy Users,” Applied Energy, 88.5 (May 2011): 1949-56.


The article explores the energy security concerns faced by China from the point of view of energy users working in government, university, civil society and business sectors. The authors first derive a set of seven hypotheses related to Chinese energy security drawn from a review of the recent academic literature. We then explain each of these seven hypotheses, relating to (1) security of energy supply, (2) geopolitics, (3) climate change, (4) decentralization, (5) energy efficiency, (6) research and innovation of new energy technologies, and (7) self sufficiency and trade. Lastly, the article tests these hypotheses through a survey distributed in English and Mandarin completed by 312 Chinese participants. The conclusion presents insights for policymakers and energy scholars.

Keywords: China; Energy security; Security of supply

Article Outline

1. Introduction

2. Research methodology

3. Seven hypotheses about China’s energy security

3.1. H1: One would expect a country such as China to be predominantly concerned about the security of fossil fuel supply, given its rapid economic growth

3.2. H2: Energy trade is unlikely to be a key dimension of energy security, given that China has placed emphasis on self dependence and has a “going out” strategy to make investments and acquisitions abroad

3.3. H3: Although traditionally, China has focused on economic growth, one would expect that growing environmental concerns from national and international sources would make climate change a salient issue

3.4. H4: Decentralized systems would not be important for a country like China, because of its tradition of central planning and the centralized nature of its current energy decision making and execution

3.5. H5: Energy efficiency would be of high importance, especially among those working in the manufacturing sector, because China has the goal of increasing GDP without a substantial rise in energy consumption

3.6. H6: Renewable energy and R&D would be highly important for China’s policymakers, given China’s increasingly important status in the world as a renewable energy leader and the potential for renewable energy to solve its energy shortage

3.7. H7: One would expect a country such as China to place emphasis on military and geopolitical security given that its energy demand is likely to lead to conflicts of interest with other large energy consuming nations

4. Testing our seven hypotheses

4.1. H1: Security of supply

4.2. H2: Self sufficiency and trade

4.3. H3: Climate change

4.4. H4: Decentralized systems

4.5. H5: Energy efficiency

4.6. H6: Research and innovation

4.7. H7: Geopolitics

5. Conclusion


Appendix A. Supplementary material


1. Introduction

China’s growing importance as an energy consumer cannot be understated. Between 1990 and 2007 China’s economy grew fourfold, and its energy use more than doubled. This was of particular concern to Chinese planners because until 1993, China was self sufficient in its energy requirements. Only then did it become a net importer of oil, “ending three decades of self sufficiency.” In the past, relying on others such as Soviet Union for energy projects engendered negative experiences as the latter withdrew from all exploration projects in the middle of construction, giving rise to China’s fear of international collaboration. However, rapid Chinese economic growth has created a parallel demand for oil, necessitating imports from international oil markets and raising concerns about energy efficiency. Since then, China has undertaken several measures to reduce its energy dependency and improve its energy security. These have attracted attention from economists and politicians alike and given rise to speculation about potential geopolitical impacts. Much has been written about China’s energy security and energy policy, and how it would evolve in the next two decades. Views range from alarmist predictions about the potential clash of superpowers, to perspectives about better integration of Chinese power into the international community due to greater trade.

Does this emerging literature on Chinese energy security actually match the views of those residing and using energy in China? In this paper, our aim is to understand what Chinese energy users working in different sectors think about energy security. We undertook a survey amongst Chinese residents to understand what they believe are the key dimensions of energy security. We first arrived at a set of hypotheses about China’s energy security by reviewing the academic literature. We then tested these seven hypotheses through a survey of Chinese residents working within government, university, civil society and business sectors. The first section of this article highlights our research methodology. The second section summarizes the seven hypotheses emerging from the literature on energy security for China. The third section summarizes the results of the survey, and compares them to the hypotheses. We conclude by summarizing the findings and deriving insights for public policymakers and energy scholars. …