Is natural gas able to ease China's air pollution?

Consumption of natural gas is rapidly growing in China. Year-on-year growth of natural gas demand in 2012 was 12.8%, much higher than below 5% of coal and petroleum. It was tenth consecutive two digits growth.

Since coal and petroleum are said to be causing recent severe air pollution, growth of environmental friendly natural gas use may ease the problem.

China is anticipated to keep increasing natural gas consumption in the future, while the International Energy Agency estimates the country has the world biggest shale gas reserves of 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet.

However, it is not so simple matter.
First, despite the higher growth rate, current gap of consumption amount between coal and natural gas in China is still far wide.

The below chart converts each fuels amount into tonne oil equivalent. It describes that coal consumption in 2012 was 12.8 times bigger than natural gas and petroleum was 3.3 times larger than gas.

In China, nearly half of coal is estimated to be used for electricity generation. Thermal power is account for 80% of the nation's total electricity supply, hydroelectricity supplies 15% and nuclear etc provide rest of 5%.

Most Chinese thermal power plants burn coal. On the other hand, natural gas is account for 55% of Japanese thermal power plants' fuel, petroleum is 20% and coal is burned to generate 25% of total power supply.

Because of existing big difference of usage between coal and gas in China, it is quite difficult to shift thermal power fuel to natural gas immediately.

Majority of Chinese thermal power plants are constructed recently in order to meet surging electricity demand. It also seems to make power companies hesitate to change their facilities.

The following chart shows trends of electricity and coal demand in China. Consumption in 1995 was set at 100 and the lines indicate every year's growth. The chart suggests that efficiency of coal consumption to generate power is improving year by year. It is likely to be due to install of advanced facilities.

Since fuel efficiency directly affects on costs, Chinese utility firms seems to pay much efforts, but environmental measures which reduce profits do not attract their attention.

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