A savings of 30 million tons of coal equivalent (Mtce, or 879 terajoules) may not seem that impressive: after all, it accounts for less than 1 percent of China’s total energy consumption of 3,100 Mtce in 2009. But if you consider the fact that roughly 1,000 companies achieved that energy savings in a single year, the number takes on much greater significance.

On June 25, China’s central planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), released a new 2009 Energy Saving Evaluation Report that details the results of its flagship “Top-1,000 Enterprises” program. Launched in April 2006, the program sets energy-saving targets for the nation’s 1,000 most energy consumptive industrial enterprises. Together, these companies accounted for 33 percent of China’s national energy usage and 47 percent of industrial energy usage in 2004. By urging the companies to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their energy consumption per unit of product, the government hopes to achieve its overall goal of reducing national energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) 20 percent by 2010.

According to the report, the Top-1,000 program has achieved aggregate savings of 132 Mtce (about 3,868 terajoules) since its launch, which means it has already surpassed its target of 100 Mtce set for the five-year period 2006–2010. But while this flagship program is exceeding expectations, other national energy-saving efforts are behind schedule. Xie Zhenhua, Vice-Chairman of the NDRC, confirmed that China’s nationwide energy intensity had decreased by only about 14.4 percent by the end of 2009. “It’s a battling year,” said Xie. Nevertheless, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, reaffirmed that the 20 percent target for 2010 is a “red line that should not be compromised.”

To keep its promise, the Chinese government has issued a series of policies to step up its energy conservation efforts. One important move has been to hold provincial officials accountable. The NDRC signed a “responsibility document” with provincial-level governments, who in turn signed agreements with the “Top 1,000” enterprises under their jurisdiction. Regional and local officials and heads of state-owned and private enterprises who fail to meet the assigned energy conservation targets will not be promoted to higher positions or receive evaluation awards—including honorary titles such as “Outstanding Party Member”—that are crucial for future promotion.

According to the 2009 assessment, roughly 3 percent of the companies as well as two regional governments were evaluated as having “failed to achieve assigned targets.” However, few details were revealed about what happened to those who were responsible. With regard to China’s “national face,” the stakes are so high that the central government may need to consider even tougher enforcement measures for the remainder of 2010 if it still wants to reach its energy conservation goals.

China has great potential to further boost its energy efficiency and conservation. Stay tuned for the results of ongoing Worldwatch Institute research on China’s energy efficiency and renewable energy potentials for 2020, being conducted for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP). Please find a presentation of preliminary result here 

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