BEIJING, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- China's power consumption in 2012 expanded at a slower pace than a year earlier due to tempered growth in the world's second-largest economy.
However, experts believe growth will gain steam this year.
The National Energy Administration (NEA) said Monday in a statement on its website that electricity used last year grew 5.5 percent from 2011 to 4.96 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh).
The growth rate was markedly lower than the 11.7-percent increase registered in 2011, echoing the slowdown in the country's economy last year.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that China's economy grew by 7.4 percent year on year in the third quarter of 2012, slowing for the seventh consecutive quarter. Key economic figures for the last quarter are scheduled to be released on Friday.
In a breakdown, the service sector consumed 11.5 percent more electricity than a year ago, the industrial sector 3.9 percent more, while power used by the agricultural sector stayed unchanged, the statement said.
The average operational time of power plants across the country with generation capacity of more than 6,000 kilowatts (kw) dropped by 158 hours to 4,572 hours last year, according to the NEA.
New generation capacity added last year stood at 87 million kw, the statement said.
By the end of last year, the country's total installed power generation capacity reached 1.14 billion kw, it added.
China remained the world's largest energy producer for a fifth straight year in 2012, with its hydropower and wind power sectors boasting the world's highest capacities, the NEA said last week.
The State Electricity Regulatory Commission said last Friday that China's electricity output rose 4.52 percent year on year to 4.94 trillion kWh in 2012.
The country's electricity consumption witnessed slower year-on-year growth in the first three quarters of 2012 before picking up from September.
As the economy showed strong signs of stabilization, power consumption increased 6.1 percent in October and 7.6 percent in November, up from 2.9 percent in September, according to NEA data. The figure for December has not yet been released.
China's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), a key barometer for the manufacturing sector, remained at 50.6 percent in December, according to official data released early this month.
The PMI figure has stood above the boom-or-bust line of 50 percent for the third consecutive month, demonstrating a trend of moderate economic recovery.
Zhou Dadi, an expert with the China Energy Research Society, told Xinhua Monday that the slowing growth of power consumption will become more commonly seen as the country underlined the quality of economic expansion.
The Chinese government said enhancing the quality and efficiency of economic growth will be its central task in its economic work this year, according to a statement released after a central economic work conference held last month.
Fast power consumption growth is not necessarily a good thing on the backdrop of China's economic restructuring and the transformation of its growth pattern, Zhou said.
Zhang Zhibin, analyst with Broad Consultancy Agencies, agreed.
Zhang said slowing power consumption growth indicated that the country's policies of energy conservation have shown their effects.
"A deceleration in electricity consumption is an inevitable trend in the future, as China has vowed to optimize and upgrade its industrial structures in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2001-2015)," Zhang said.
Zhang predicts that power consumption this year will pick up slightly and grow by about 6.5 percent year on year due to signs of an economic recovery.