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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