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BEIJING, Nov 17 (Reuters) - China has nudged to the pinnacle of world energy consumption rankings on the back of pig manure and other kinds of biomass fuel, according to the chief of the International Energy Agency, explaining why estimates differ.
Chinese officials have become huffy about their nation being called the world's biggest user of energy, fearing the title will bring with it more demands to slash consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, dragging down economic growth.
Last month, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said that China had passed the United States to become the world's biggest overall energy consumer. [ID:nLDE69B0SN]
That conclusion has drawn angry denials from Chinese officials and newspapers.
The executive director of the Paris-based IEA, Nobuo Tanaka, said on Wednesday that the difference between his organisation's estimate and China's more modest count of its energy use came down to the use of "biomass" fuel, including plants and livestock excrement that are left to rot in tanks and produce gas.
"We know what the difference is. It's about the coverage of data for energy consumption. Our energy consumption covers so-called conventional traditional biomass, mostly in rural areas," he told a news conference in Beijing to present the findings of the IEA's latest World Energy Outlook.
"China is not including that part of energy consumption. So it makes a difference of 4-5 percent," he said.
China's rising appetite for oil, coal and other fossil fuels, as well as other sources of energy, meant it would soon claim the top energy consumer spot, if it had not already, said Tanaka.
"Maybe if not 2009, then it is 2010, this year, or next year at the latest. But it doesn't make much difference if it's a year or two."
Beijing does have ambitious goals for expanding power generation from farmyard sources. China's current national targets for renewable power include mandates for 30 gigawatts each from wind and biomass energy by 2020. [ID:nTOE67B054]
The IEA advises 28 developed countries. China is not a part of the IEA but the agency monitors the country as its energy demand can have a big impact on international prices.
Speaking at the same news conference as Tanaka, a leading Chinese energy researcher said the IEA's estimates suffered from "shortfalls".
"Some of the data about China is not rigorous enough," said Han Wenke, an energy researcher in the government's National Development and Reform Commission. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Chris Lewis)