Measurement of inequality using household energy consumption data in rural China

  • Nature Energyvolume 2pages795803 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41560-017-0003-1
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Measuring inequality can be challenging due to the limitations of using household income or expenditure data. Because actual energy consumption can be measured more easily and accurately and is relatively more stable, it may be a better measure of inequality. Here we use data on energy consumption for specific devices from a large nation-wide household survey (n = 3,404 rural households from 12 provinces) to assess inequality in rural China. We find that the overall inequality of energy consumption and expenditure varies greatly in terms of energy type, end-use demand, regions and climatic zones. Biomass, space heating and cooking, intraregional differences, and climatic zones characterized as cold or hot summer/cold winter contribute the most to total inequality for each indicator, respectively. The results suggest that the expansion of infrastructure does not accompany alleviation of energy inequality, and that energy affordability should be improved through income growth and targeted safety-net programmes instead of energy subsidies.

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We thank J. Guo, Z.T. Huang, J.Q. Hu and J.S. Fu for their input in survey design and implementation and data collection. We are grateful to J. Tang and W.D. Wang for their technical guidance and Y.C. Liu, R.L. Yang and Y. Zhang for their support to CRECS. Funding for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 71622014, 41771564, 71774165), Ministry of Education of China (Grant nos 14JJD790033, 16YJA790049) and Beijing Natural Science Foundation (Grant no. 9152011).

Author information


  1. Department of Energy Economics, School of Economics, Renmin University of China, No 59, Zhongguancun Street, Haidian district, Beijing, 100872, China

    • Shimei Wu
    • , Xinye Zheng
    •  & Chu Wei


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All authors contributed to survey design and data collection. S.M.W. conducted the data analysis. X.Y.Z. secured project funding. C.W. drafted the manuscript. S.M.W. and C.W. edited the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chu Wei.

Electronic supplementary material

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–2, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1–2, and Supplementary References