China Program

China Program

We work collaboratively with researchers in China and around the world to understand the dynamics of China's energy system. Our research focuses on the analysis of energy and related emissions trends, technologies and policies on various sectors in China's economy.

Our Research

Our collaborative approach with government agencies, universities, other national laboratories and industry partners is the key to creating the greatest impact through policy development, capacity building and technological advances. Since 1988, we have facilitated relationships between the U.S., China and Berkeley Lab in order to build scientific capabilities and facilities in the area of energy and the environment.

Stock image of Guangzhou, ChinaWe offer:

  • Cutting-edge research in energy data, long-term energy modeling, smart and resilient cities, and urban infrastructure
  • Unique tools and guidebooks that make the measurement of energy use easier to predict, control and analyze
  • Exchange programs between students and officials in both China and the U.S.
  • Development of clean power and smart grid integrations
  • Technical assistance with high-performance buildings and products

Our work provides a deeper understanding of the dynamics and global impacts of China’s energy use and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.


China Program - Where We've Been, Where We're Going

Where We've Been

Berkeley Lab's China Energy Program (formerly known as the China Energy Group), was founded in 1988 and works collaboratively with partners in China and around the world to understand the dynamics of China's energy system, energy use, and associated impacts on the environment and global climate, and to identify ways to address energy, environment, and climate challenges. Research is conducted at the intersection of science, technology, policy, and economics with collaborators around the world at the direction of the Department of Energy.

Where We're Going

The next 30 years will be a critical period for China to achieve peaking of carbon dioxide emissions and embark on a pathway to achieve mid-century carbon neutrality. The geopolitical environment is ever-evolving. With a long and well-established network of partners in China and with our partner's strong trust, the China Energy Program is well-equipped to effectively respond to the evolving situation and to continue to have a unique impact on achieving these goals. 

We focus on capturing emerging opportunities in four key sectors: industry, buildings, transportation, and power. We conduct innovative research on effective paths and implementation strategies for these sectors to achieve net zero emissions. In addition, we encompass a wide range of important cross-sector topics including subnational decarbonization, bilateral government climate cooperation, international knowledge transfer, just energy transitions, non-CO2 impacts, and technology innovation systems to achieve zero emissions.


Here are key areas where the China Energy Program has had and will continue to have expertise and impact on China research:

Appliance energy efficiency standards
We have provided technical and analytical leadership for the establishment of appliance energy efficiency standards and labeling in China for almost three decades. In the early 1990s, Berkeley Lab provided in-depth training on the analysis of the standards if China would commit to setting standards for a key energy-consuming appliance – refrigerators. This agreement jump-started the appliance energy efficiency standards program in China, with Berkeley Lab providing intensive training and technical assistance that led to the promulgation of China’s first technically robust appliance standard for refrigerators.
With continued assistance from the China Energy Program, China now has mandatory energy efficiency standards for 65 products and mandatory energy information labels for 33 products. By 2030, standards for products such as televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, heating equipment, computers and 60 others will lead to total annual energy savings of 830 terra-watt hours (TWh), the equivalent of the output of nearly eight Three Gorges Dams or 173 large Chinese coal-fired power plants. 

Developed China’s Top 1000 enterprise program to achieve industrial energy efficiency 

As the world's largest producer of energy-intensive commodities such as steel, cement, and chemicals, China's industrial sector accounts for about 70% of the country’s total primary energy use and related emissions. Working with Chinese partners, our researchers were instrumental in the establishment of China’s Top-1000 Enterprises Program and worked with the country’s 1,000 largest energy-consuming industrial enterprises to achieve specific energy consumption reduction goals. The Economist called the Top-1000 program “arguably the single most important climate policy in the world”. 

Our work addressing the energy use and emissions of coal-fired boilers also created a direct policy impact in China. The Program’s success in influencing China's policy on coal-fired boilers led directly to the launch of a two-year bilateral cooperation project on industrial coal-fired boilers between the U.S. State Department and China’s National Development & Reform Commission. The China Energy Group led the implementation of this high-profile project.

Our researchers also developed models and trained Chinese researchers and industry experts to quantify and create the first publicly available website documenting the energy-savings and emissions reduction potential of 42 Chinese cement plants, demonstrated energy auditing tools and conducted energy audits in numerous Chinese industrial facilities. We have trained hundreds of Chinese engineers to analyze the air quality improvement co-benefits of industrial energy efficiency measures. All of these programs directly contributed to significantly reducing the energy use, CO2, and air pollutant emissions of Chinese industrial facilities.

Transforming Buildings

Chinese buildings have experienced excessive air infiltration, heat loss, and overheating that lead to very wasteful consumption of energy. The China Energy Program has a long history of providing training and technical support to assist China. Contributions include using building energy simulation software; drafting and implementation of buildings codes and standards related to energy efficiency; creating energy ratings and labels for windows; analyzing distributed renewable energy for buildings; and developing innovative  financial products for untapped cost-effective building energy-saving upgrades.

Key Technical Support for the Paris Agreement 

The China Energy Group has created a detailed bottom-up model of China’s energy system, the 2050 China Demand Resources and Energy Analysis Model (DREAM), that we use to understand the potential for China to reduce its future energy use and emissions by evaluating the application of advanced technology and policies under various scenarios.

With the help of the DREAM model, Berkeley Lab’s China Energy Program and its partners – China National Development and Reform Commission Energy Research Institute (ERI) and Rocky Mountain Institute ─ completed and released a research report Reinventing Fire China at the 2016 G20 Energy Efficiency Forum hosted by China. The report provides a groundbreaking energy roadmap for China that shows how the country can meet its ambitious, six-fold 2050 economic growth target using almost the same amount of energy in 2050 as 2010, but with substantially more renewable energy and less coal. The China Energy Program also used the DREAM model to inform both the U.S. and Chinese governments as they negotiated the 2014 U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change. This same process was used to inform the negotiations that resulted in the Paris Agreement, the most comprehensive international agreement for addressing climate change to date.


  • Lead authors of numerous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports since the early 1990s; in 2007 the IPCC’s authors received the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • R&D 100 Award for developing the Benchmarking and Energy Saving Tool for Low-Carbon Cities (BEST Cities) model
  • R&D 100 Award for development of the Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) web application

Contacts: Nan Zhou

China Energy Outlook

The China Energy Outlook (CEO) provides a detailed review of China's energy use and trends. China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of primary energy as well as the world’s largest emitter of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2). China surpassed the U.S. in primary energy consumption in 2010 and in CO2 emissions in 2006. In 2018, China was responsible for 21% of total global primary energy use and about 29% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

CEO 2020 available for download:

Contacts: Nan Zhou, Nina Khanna

Decarbonization of Heavy-duty Trucks

China's fast-growing transport sector is a key driver of the growth of national energy demand, particularly for petroleum products, despite significant progress in efficiency improvements and fuel switching. While China leads in electrifying its passenger vehicle fleet, decarbonizing heavy-duty trucks remains a key challenge. Our team explored and quantified the potential impacts of different vehicle and operational efficiency, electrification and other fuel switching strategies for reducing diesel demand, and related CO2 emissions and air pollutants, from China’s heavy-duty trucking sector.

Heavy-duty trucks in the road freight sector are a growing area of focus for reducing transportation-related oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions because of this sector’s disproportionate environmental impacts and the technical challenges of mitigating them. Read more: 

Near and long‑term perspectives on strategies to decarbonize China’s heavy‑duty trucks through 2050

Contacts: Nina Khanna, Nan Zhou

Industry Analysis & Decarbonization

Industry Cross-Cutting System Analysis

China’s industrial production is responsible for 70% of the country’s and 28% of the world’s energy-
related carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions. Decarbonization efforts typically focus on industry-specific
technologies. Data on cross-cutting systems, such as steam system, process heating systems, and
motors system are not publicly available for Chinese industries.
Berkeley Lab researchers developed a proxy method to quantify the energy flow by fuel types in China’s
most energy intensive industries: steel, chemicals, cement, petroleum refining, and aluminum. We
developed the first-ever energy flow Sankey diagrams to illustrate the energy flow-in and flow-out
within each of these industries. The data can be used to support cross-cutting system analysis,
understanding system-level energy use and efficiency, as well as potential to decarbonize the energy use
at the system-level.

Industrial Heat Carbonization

Industrial heat accounted for about 30% of global final energy demand and 21% of global CO 2 emissions
in 2018. Widely viewed as one of the most hard-to-abate sectors, industry accounted for more than one
third of global GHG emissions. Industrial heat, representing for about 30% of global final energy use in
2018, primarily (81%) comes from burning of fossil fuels. CO 2 emissions associated with industrial heat
production represent 21% of global CO 2 emissions, as shown in the Figure below. Renewable heat and
electricity provided heat only contributed to 9% and 10% to the industrial heat production in 2018,

Figure 1: Contribution of Industrial Heat to Global Final Energy Demand and CO2 Emissions in 2018
Sources: BloombergNEF and WBCSD, 2021; Lovins, 2021; Rissman et al.2020; Thiel and Stark, 2021.

Berkeley Lab conducts technological assessments and techno-economic analysis of key technologies to decarbonize industrial heat, including assessing industrial heat characteristics, technology potential and opportunities, barriers, and potential solutions to implement and scale up technological adoption.

Building Materials Decarbonization

Embodied emissions from building materials contributed to 17% of China’s total CO2 emissions, emitting more than 1.4 Gt of CO2 emissions per year. As China pledges to peak its CO2 emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060, few studies have analyzed the whether and how China can fully decarbonize its embodied emissions in the buildings sector.

Berkeley Lab developed an integrated model that combines the demand and supply of key building materials, investigated specific measures in energy efficiency, material efficiency, fuel switching, electrification, and carbon capture and storage, and quantified embodied energy and CO2 emission pathways.

Industry Decomposition Analysis

Industry sector accounted for 65% of China’s total primary energy use and about 70% of its energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020. It is critical to transform China’s industry in order to achieve China’s “Dual-Carbon” goals and the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

For many years, the Chinese government has been calling for “structural shift” as one of the key ways to modernize its economy. However, the share of gross domestic product (GDP) from the Chinese secondary (industry) sector has remained relatively flat, at around 40% from 1991 to 2019, significantly higher than other advanced countries, such as Japan (29%), Germany (28%), United States (18%), and the OECD countries (average 22%). While the Chinese tertiary (service) sector share of GDP seems to be on track to meet its goal of 56% by 2020, the most significant “structural shift” in China over the past 15 years has been the declining contribution from the primary (agricultural) sector, rather than secondary (industry) sector, as shown in the Figure below. Industry’s share of total energy use as well as energy-related CO2 emissions in China has stayed at around 70% since 1980.

Figure 2. Share of Sectoral Value Added in China’s GDP and Value-added by Sector
Sources: NBS, various years; NBS, 2019c; NBS, 2013.

Note: The secondary sector in China is defined as mining, manufacturing (not including repair of metal products, machinery) and equipment), construction, and production and supply of power, heat, natural gas and water. Primary sector includes agriculture, forestry, farming, and fishing. Tertiary sector refers to the service industry.

Berkeley Lab conducted analysis to identify drivers of China’s recent industry energy and CO2 emissions trends, evaluated the impact of key drivers using decomposition analysis, conducted interviews with Chinese industry experts and policymakers, and provided policy recommendations to support China’s industry transition.

Contact: Hongyou Lu, Bo Shen, Nan Zhou

China Databook

Low Carbon City Policy Databook, 2016:

Contacts: Nan Zhou, Hongyou Lu

A Just Coal-to-Clean Transition in China

Since coal accounts for more than half of China's energy mix, the Chinese coal industry plays a pivotal role in influencing the trajectory of climate change. Driving the transformation of the Chinese coal industry will be key to achieving China’s carbon neutrality goals and Paris Agreement targets. However, unlike industrialized countries where the coal industry's dwindling share of energy production makes the impact of coal phase-out more manageable, China today employs millions of people in coal-related industries and many Chinese cities depend on coal-related activities. If the coal industry lags behind in China's ongoing energy transition, millions of jobs will be affected. Therefore, promoting a just transition is crucial for China, especially its coal industry.

The coal industry occupies an important place in China's energy system, and failure to integrate the industry into energy transition efforts could lead to coal industry resistance to change, creating challenges for transition. Our researchers have been working with institutions in the Chinese coal industry to introduce global best practices in policy, technology, marketization, and implementation to drive a just energy transition. We are also providing technical assistance to support Chinese coal industry's efforts to create a bottom-up and insider approach that can help accelerate the transformation of China's coal industry, as it enables the coal industry to align its transition needs with China's carbon neutrality goals.

Contact: Bo Shen

Decision Science
We employ rigorous modeling and social science methodologies, as well as program
implementation to inform energy and climate policies that help to accelerate building
and urban sustainability transitions. 
Subnational climate action support
Over the past 35 years, we have undertaken both analytical and on-the-ground program
implementation to develop and introduce clean energy and climate mitigation resources
to urban researchers and policymakers. This included training over 600 researchers and
officials from more than 20 Chinese cities in the application of our guidebooks,
strategies, and tools.
China Energy Program also served as the U.S. Secretariat for The
Climate-Smart / Low-Carbon Cities Initiative of the US-China Climate Change Working
Group (CCWG).
The U.S. and China have both announced their own carbon neutrality targets in 2020.
To realize these ambitious goals, implementing climate actions at the subnational levels
will be key to success in the 2020s. Based on our earlier work developing China Green
Low-Carbon City Index for more than 100 Chinese cities, we will continue to develop
data infrastructure, research, and peer-learning programs to accelerate carbon-neutral
urban transformation in both countries.
Energy Innovation: Energy Efficiency, Demand Response, PV, and Energy Storage
We apply surveys, interviews, and econometric analysis approaches to support the
development and deployment of cleantech sector strategy by analyzing (1) technology
learning and policy diffusion: how and why sustainable technology, practices, and
policies diffuse into the society over time; (2) users and adoption: understanding human
behaviors and patterns in adopting demand-side innovations, including commercial
demand response programs and energy efficiency home upgrades (3) Innovation
database: we compile and maintain a comprehensive innovation database to support
energy and climate modeling and decision making, particularly focus on technological
and social innovations that help to reduce and manage energy demand.
Housing Innovation: Passive Houses, Net-Zero Energy/Emission Buildings, Offsite Construction
Passive houses and Net-Zero Energy/Emission Buildings
We provide policy strategies to enhance the deployment of sustainable solutions in
buildings through energy-efficient design and renewable energy integration. Buildings
account for almost 30% of global CO 2 emissions. Large savings in energy use (75% or
higher) are possible in new buildings through better designs. The passive house
standard is the most rigorous energy-efficient building code today. Passive house
standard provides a premise for meeting net-zero energy/emission building goals,
though the latter is not necessarily as energy-efficient as the former.
Offsite Construction
As buildings become increasingly efficient, the embodied emissions generated from the
production of building materials and construction processes will become
more prominent. For highly energy-efficient buildings, the share of embodied GHG
emissions over buildings’ life cycle could escalate to 45-50% and surpasses 90% in
extreme cases (Rock M.,, 2020). One of the ways to reduce embodied GHG
emissions is by employing the offsite construction (OC) approach. OC offers
opportunities to reduce waste, test sustainable materials, and produce highly energy-
efficient products and units in a factory-controlled environment.
Viewing OC as a catalyzer to accelerate building decarbonization, we provide
comprehensive research programs to help address industry barriers.
These include laboratory testing for new design, product, and construction management processes,
start-up incubation, firm innovation pattern analysis, financing models, policy design and
evaluation, and life cycle analysis for carbon emissions and costs, etc.
Nat Simons Presidential Chair in China Energy Policy
Energy/Environmental Policy Senior Scientist/Engineer