U.S., China Energy Use Predicted to Flatten in Coming Decades

A new study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that carbon emissions and energy for the U.S. and China will peak and level off in the 2030s. From Reuters:

The forecasts, particularly for China, contradict widespread predictions that China’s energy use and emissions would continue to soar until at least mid-century. Still, both forecasts indicate that greenhouse gas emissions will remain far above the level that most climatologists say is needed to avert major disruptions from global warming.

The China study, conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, forecasts that China’s booming economy and energy use will peak around 2030 to 2035, and then level off afterwards as the demands of increasingly affluent Chinese consumers for goods also reach a peak in the 2030s. The rise of nuclear power, coupled with aggressive energy efficiency policies and the spread of renewable energy technologies and electric cars, will help soften demand for fossil fuels even as the Chinese economy grows, the report said.

The report does not say energy use will decrease, only that it will stabilize and increase much less. The report, done over the last four years, is surprising for those who assumed China’s growth would cause unlimited demand for energy. From Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory News Center:

Berkeley Lab researchers Nan Zhou, David Fridley, Michael McNeil, Nina Zheng, and Jing Ke co-authored the report with Levine. Their study is a “scenario analysis” that forecasts two possible energy futures for China, one an “accelerated improvement scenario” that assumes success for a very aggressive effort to improve energy efficiency, the other a more conservative “continued improvement scenario” that meets less ambitious targets. Yet both of these scenarios, at a different pace, show similar moderation effects and a flattening of energy consumption well before 2050.

Under the more aggressive scenario, energy consumption begins to flatten in 2025, just 14 years from now. The more conservative scenario sees energy consumption rates beginning to taper in 2030. By the mid-century mark, energy consumption under the “accelerated improvement scenario” will be 20 percent below that of the other.

Scenario analysis is also used in more conventional forecasts, but these are typically based on macroeconomic variables such as gross domestic product and population growth. Such scenarios are developed “without reference to saturation, efficiency, or usage of energy-using devices, e.g., air conditioners,’’ says the Berkeley Lab report. “For energy analysts and policymakers, this is a serious omission, in some cases calling into question the very meaning of the scenarios.’’

The new Berkeley Lab forecast also uses the two scenarios to examine CO2 emissions anticipated through 2050. Under the more aggressive scenario, China’s emissions of the greenhouse gas are predicted to peak in 2027 at 9.7 billion metric tons. From then on, they will fall significantly, to about 7 billion metric tons by 2050. Under the more conservative scenario, CO2 emissions will reach a plateau of 12 billion metric tons by 2033, and then trail down to 11 billion metric tons at mid-century.

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