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Quantifying the rural residential energy transition in China from 1992 to 2012 through a representative national survey


Rural household energy use for cooking and heating is an important source of air pollutants in China, as it affects both human health and climate change. However, the magnitude of rural household energy use, especially during the recent rapid socioeconomic transition period, has not been well quantified. Here, we present first-hand nationwide data from a 34,489-household energy-mix survey and a 1,670-household fuel-weighing campaign. We found that the consumption of wood and crop residues in rural China decreased by 63% and 51%, respectively, from 1992 to 2012, and these decreases were much greater than the 15% and 8%, respectively, reported by the International Energy Agency and Food and Agriculture Organization. The rapid residential energy transition over these two decades was primarily driven by the rapid socioeconomic development. One important implication of this transition is the significant reduction in the emissions of major air pollutants, especially incomplete combustion products leading to significant impacts on health and climate.

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We sincerely thank all the professors and students who participated in the China rural energy survey. This study is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos 41390240, 41571130010 and 41629101), the 111 Project (grant no. B14001), the undergraduate student research training program of the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Foundation (Clean Stove Alliance, grant no. PR-15-39806). Comments from K. Smith, T. Gasser and D. O. Carpenter are appreciated.

Author information

S.T. designed the study. S.T., M.Y.R., G.F.S., H.Z.S., S.J.Z., Y.L.C., X.Y., X.L.W., W.X.L., H.F.C. and D.Q.Z. designed the questionnaire and organized the survey. W.D., T.B.H., N.L. and S.S. conducted the weighing campaign. Data analysis was conducted by S.T., M.Y.R., X.Z., Q.R.Z., B.G.L., J.F.L., W.J.M., X.L.P. and Y.X. Writing was led by S.T. with inputs from M.Y.R., W.D., X.Z., Q.R.Z. and B.G.L.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to S. Tao.

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    Supplementary Figures 1–11, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary References

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Fig. 1: Percentage share of fuel type in residential energy use in rural China in 2012.
Fig. 2: Changes in the relative time usages of residential energy from 1992 to 2012 in rural China.
Fig. 3: The transition trajectories of the rural residential energy mix from 1992 to 2012 in China.
Fig. 4: Comparison between the observed and model-predicted fractions of CF&E.
Fig. 5: Changes in residential energy consumption from 1992 to 2012 in rural China.