China’s Energy Economy: Reforms, Market Development, Factor Substitution and the Determinants of Energy Intensity (2009)
AuthorsMa, Hengyunshow all
The ongoing transition of former communist countries from planned to market economies has been one of the most important economic phenomena in the last few decades. Among these, China is one of the largest and fastest growing emerging economies in the world since the reforms initiated in the late 1980s. China’s economic growth has been phenomenal. Therefore, understanding China’s energy economy is crucial in the new millennium for politicians, businessmen and energy economists. In particular, China’s energy policy directions will bring about both challenges and opportunities to the world in terms of an increasing share of primary energy consumption and investment in the energy industry. However, after surveying the literature, it is surprising to find that a few major areas of China’s energy economics are missing and the views on China’s energy economics are already out dated. Therefore, given the size and growth of its economy and the effect of its energy consumption on global energy markets, reviewing China’s energy situation and filling the missing literatures are essential for those who are interested in and concerned about China’s economic development in the new millennium. This study was motivated after conducting a survey of the literature on the study of China’s energy economy and reviewing China’s energy situation in the new millennium. The goal of the research is focused on providing readers the most important and the newest information on China’s energy economy. The study consists of three introductory sections and three core sections. The former includes a survey of literature, China’s energy situation in the new millennium, institutional evolution and changing energy prices. The latter includes tests for the emergence of an energy market in China, factor substitution and demand for energy, and technological change and the determinants of energy intensity. The main findings are as follows. China’s energy economy is still underdeveloped. It is crucial to review China’s energy situation in the new millennium. Energy, industrial deregulation and price reforms have been fast in China since the early 1990s. Empirical investigations have found evidence for the emergence of an energy market economy in China. The estimates demonstrate that there appears to be significant substitution possibilities between energy and labor when compared with international findings. Significant effects of substitution mainly come from the adoption of labor-intensive technology. Coal and electricity are significantly substitutable, while the demand for energy is elastic, in general. Finally, decomposing energy intensity shows that the budget constraint (a kind of price effect) reduces energy intensity while technological change increases energy intensity. These findings bring us to the following major implications. Firstly, it is important to understand the potential effect of new energy regulation and pricing mechanism on the future directions of China’s energy economy, which suggests that former predictions of China’s energy demand may have to be significantly discounted, and the potential effect on the global energy markets and emissions may need to be re-evaluated. Secondly, significant substitution between energy and labor is potentially good news as China possesses some of the most abundant labor sources in the world. However, because capital more easily substitutes for energy than labor, more policy incentives are needed for labor to substitute for energy. Thirdly, significant substitution between coal-electricity suggests that the effects of environmental taxes, however, may be smaller than expected due to the fact that most primary energy coming from coal. Also any shift from coal to electricity implies more investment in transmission lines rather than railways. Fourthly, energy constraints on energy supply may only slightly impede economic growth in China because the elasticity of substitution between energy and other factors is quite large compared to internationally. Fifthly, while many factors are responsible for the inelasticity of demand for energy, rising income may be one of the most important given the high levels of energy prices. Increasing energy prices may be unable to constrain energy consumption at present. Thus other energy policies need to be considered to encourage or depress certain types of energy consumption. Finally, reducing exports of energy-intensive commodities, reducing the high-level energy-using sectors, lowering capital investment and constraining imports of second-hand and obsolete equipment, would all help reduce growth in energy intensity. Politically, however, this may be at an unacceptable cost to economic growth. Although this study has conducted a series of investigations into the institutional changes and consumption behavior of China’s energy economy, continuous updating required as more data is continually added in a highly dynamic and changing environment.
JEL Classifications: D24, O33, Q41.