Access to better energy infrastructure in rural China has not alleviated energy inequality, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Energy. The study highlights household energy consumption as a stable, direct, and easily quantifiable measure of inequality based on the value of not just owning but using durable goods.
Chu Wei and colleagues conducted a nation-wide household survey on energy consumption in rural China, focusing on five activities: cooking, powering home appliances, water heating, space heating and space cooling. They find that inequality measured in terms of energy consumption is systematically different from inequality measures based on household income or expenditure data, such that energy inequality is more uneven than income-based inequality. They show that deriving energy from biomass, use of energy for space heating and cooking, and intraregional differences are major contributors to energy consumption inequality in rural China.
The authors suggest that inequality measures such as household income are limited because they are subject to short-term fluctuations and may not fully reflect available household resources. By using energy consumption data as a more direct measure of inequality, this study suggests that energy subsidies and infrastructure expansions are not sufficient to reduce energy inequality, and that policy should focus on energy affordability and promoting a transition away from biomass to other modern energy sources.