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“China is now singularly and amazingly committed to the concept of resource conservation,” said Berkeley Lab researcher David Fridley. “You don’t find the level of skepticism about climate change there that you do in the U.S.”

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists Lynn Price and Nan Zhou expected the long banquet and endless toasting. What they did not expect on a recent trip to a cement plant in central China was a three-hour variety show by the factory employees, complete with folk dancing, song-and-dance numbers and comedians. Even more surprising were the lyrics to one of the songs:  “I started to listen closely and realized they were singing about closing inefficient factories, next year’s clean production targets and so on,” said Zhou.

As members of Berkeley Lab’s China Energy Group, Price and Zhou, along with colleagues David Fridley and Mark Levine, can now add music to the list of things they’ve inspired, though their normal work is in the far more ho-hum world of refrigerator labels, building energy retrofits, and industrial factories. Yet, considering that China accounts for half of the world’s cement production, that it constructs as much building area as the entire rest of the world, and that the old trope about a billion people buying television sets is only a slight exaggeration, such energy efficiency work is far from mundane.

Berkeley Lab researchers Lynn Price (left) and Nan Zhou (right)

Berkeley Lab researchers Lynn Price (left) and Nan Zhou (right) train Chinese staff of cement plants to use the Benchmarking and Energy Savings Tool, developed by the China Energy Group.

The China Energy Group, formed by Levine in 1988, has been an instrumental behind-the-scenes advisor and partner in the greening of China, working with Chinese agencies to build domestic know-how in energy efficiency. Staff members of nearly 300 cement plants in China have been trained to use the Group’s Benchmarking and Energy Savings Tool, and the Berkeley Lab experts have worked closely with Chinese counterparts to develop appliance efficiency standards and label programs, building codes for energy efficient design, energy use models, and more.

The significance of these programs has become increasingly obvious as the world watches and waits for world leaders to agree on a binding treaty to slash greenhouse gas emissions. “There’s no political agreement in the world that’s going to change greenhouse gas emissions if it doesn’t ultimately translate into these types of programs,” said Hal Harvey, CEO of the ClimateWorks Foundation, which, through the China Sustainable Energy Program of the Energy Foundation, is an important source of funding for the China Energy Group. “Conversely if you have these types of programs in place, you can have political agreements that will reinforce them.”

If China’s cement industry continues to implement energy efficiency measures, some of which were identified through tools and trainings by the China Energy Group and their collaborators in China, it will will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 800 million tons between 2006 and 2030. The energy labels and appliance standards, developed with considerable support from Berkeley Lab, will reduce carbon emissions in China by about 9.1 billion tons between 2009 and 2030. China’s total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2007 totaled 6.43 billion tons, according to the Group’s data.

The effects of climate change have already wrought considerable economic damage in China; the country experienced severe droughts and storms in the last decade that were unprecedented. Fridley said the government has even sent teams to survey the Himalayan glaciers. “China is now singularly and amazingly committed to the concept of resource conservation,” he said. “You don’t find the level of skepticism about climate change there that you do in the U.S.”

In order to reach its recently announced target of reducing carbon intensity in the next decade by 40 to 45 percent compared with 2005 levels, China will need to perfect and sustain its energy efficiency programs, as well as adopt wider use of renewable energy. It set itself on a path to higher energy efficiency in 2005, when the senior leadership announced an ambitious goal of reducing energy intensity (energy use as a unit of economic output) by 20 percent from 2005 to 2010.

At the time, “nobody thought it was possible,” Levine said. “Nobody I knew in either the U.S. or China.” From 1980 to 2002, China managed to increase its economy sixfold while only doubling its energy use. Then in the following three years—years of unbridled industrial growth—a dramatic rise in energy intensity shocked the government, prompting the 20 percent target and the launching of a large number of government-led energy efficiency programs.

Berkeley Lab Assessment of China’s Energy Intensity Target

Researchers from Berkeley Lab's China Energy Group were treated to a three-hour variety show on a recent visit to a cement factory.

Levine and the rest of the China Energy Group have just completed an assessment of the first three years of China’s current five-year energy-saving plan. The Berkeley Lab researchers conclude that China is on track to meet or even exceed its target, thanks largely to successes in its buildings efficiency program, appliance standards program, the closing of small, inefficient factories and improving energy efficiency in the top 1,000 energy-consuming enterprises.

Still, they found that China has made little progress in necessary structural changes. Industrial energy use accounts for the lion’s share of total energy consumption in China, and in fact, grew from 69 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2007. In contrast, in the United States, energy consumption is more evenly divided among the industrial, transportation, residential and commercial sectors. The fundamental structural changes that are required in China will take years or decades to achieve, as the country evolves from a producer to more of a consumer economy, according to Levine.

An important finding was that implementation of most of the building energy-efficiency programs are on track except for the heat supply system reform. Although building standards are being enforced in new construction, there is still “widespread use of highly energy-intensive building materials and little consideration for life-cycle energy use,” the report says. Furthermore, retrofits remain questionable in terms of the actual energy savings due to building occupants being unable to control indoor temperatures (except by opening windows when their apartment is overheated), the lack of price signals (heating costs are generally apportioned based on area of an apartment rather than usage) and the difficulties in engaging heat supply companies to improve the efficiency of heat supply. The report provides a series of recommendations that, if adopted, would be of great value to China in overcoming these difficulties.

The report also recommends establishing a systematic means of collecting annual data on energy consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, that includes not only national reporting but also reporting by provinces and enterprises. Such a system would be essential in monitoring China’s progress in achieving its goal of reducing carbon intensity.

Improving Cement Manufacturing

China is at a critical moment in its growth, having recently surpassed the U.S. in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, years earlier than expected. The country is experiencing an astounding rate of urbanization, which means not just millions of rural-dwellers moving to cities, but the building of new roads, homes and infrastructure to accommodate them—all of which requires an enormous amount of cement and steel. “It requires the equivalent of building one USA in the next 20 years and another USA in the following 20 years,” said Harvey of ClimateWorks.

China has thousands of cement factories, which collectively produced 1.4 billion tons of cement last year, half of the world’s production and more than double the amount 10 years ago. Production may peak in the next few years, Price said, but will still remain above 1 billion tons annually for many years.

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China Energy Group members Lynn Price, Ali Hasanbeigi, Nan Zhou and Hongyou Lu visit a Chinese cement factory to train staff in energy efficiency measures.

Cement manufacturing is not only extremely energy-intensive but also highly polluting. By next spring companies representing one-third of China’s cement production will have had staff trained to use Berkeley Lab’s Benchmarking and Energy Savings Tool (BEST), a program allowing operators to benchmark their plant’s energy performance against domestic and international best practice and choose energy efficiency measures that would best fit their plant.

The tool allows China to make improvements in ways that it is comfortable with. “They own the process. They can decide what’s best for them,” said Price. “The Chinese like to compare their plants with best practices in other countries, understand what’s working and learn from the latest developments.”

Harmonizing Computer and Server Standards

Between doing trainings at three cement plants in November, the China Energy Group also participated in a workshop in Beijing with officials from China, India, the European Union and the U.S. where an initial agreement was made to work towards harmonizing energy performance standards for computers and servers. The U.S. currently has only a voluntary program through Energy Star while China has initiated development of mandatory minimum efficiency standards.

“Manufacturers prefer harmonized standards because they won’t have to test products to multiple standards, and it lowers costs,” said Fridley.

Data centers already account for 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy use and that number is expected to rise. Meanwhile, home computer ownership is soaring in China, India and other developing countries. With the number of computers and laptops in China projected to surpass 500 million by 2030, Fridley estimates that the annual energy savings from a Chinese energy performance standard today would be equivalent to the output of five power plants. For servers, he estimates the total annual savings to be the equivalent of seven power plants.

Berkeley Lab coordinated the workshop with the non-profit Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program (CLASP).

China Energy Primer

As international collaborations with China grow, foreign governments and environmental institutions increasingly want to understand China’s energy system, whose characteristics differ significantly from Western economies, being part open-market and part socialist. To meet this demand, the China Energy Group this month published the China Energy Primer, which, combined with its companion the China Energy Databook, is the most comprehensive compendium and reporting of China’s data on energy and the factors that drive energy demand that exists in English.

“It explains some issues that are often misunderstood, particularly in the U.S., such as how does China’s energy pricing work,” said Fridley. “We have a thorough discussion of China’s energy pricing system as well as what the prices are.”

Do not, however, expect a song about it.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California.  It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at

For more information:
•    China Energy Group
•    CLASP announcement on Computer and Server workshop
•    BEST-Cement for China