The rapid economy expansion in China has substantially increased energy consumption. Under the stringent environmental policy and the requirement of green economy development, the accurate assessment and analysis of energy efficiency is an increasingly significant issue for energy development policy making in China. This study uses the weighted slacks-based model (weighted SBM) considering the energy substitutability to evaluate the regional energy efficiency (EE) in 29 Chinese provinces, from 1991 to 2015, and explores the sustainable evolution characteristics of EE by comparative and convergence analyses from different perspectives. The empirical results show that EE has significant geographic differences. On the one hand, EE increases from the west to the east of China, and its volatility has a rising trend over the period 1991–2015. Only the EE in the eastern area had a stable rising trend, and the EE differences are difficult to reduce in the short term. On the other hand, the economic zones in the south of China, such as Central Bohai, Pearl River Delta, and Yangtze River Delta, have higher EE. We also find a significant EE improvement occurred during the Eleventh and the Twelfth Five-Year plans. By means of the convergence analysis of energy efficiency across different areas and economic zones over different time intervals, it is shown that EE in the southeast coast provinces have a better catching-up effect and adjustment rate toward the efficient frontier, while the western inland provinces are less effective over the period 1991–2005. Further, we empirically find that the industry policies including industry transfer policy promote EE globally, but the regional differences and fluctuations in EE remain serious. Certain policy implications are discussed with regard to sustainable regional development and an effective industry transfer policy.
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