As an emerging economy experiencing rapid growth, China has to strike a balance between satisfying its huge energy demand and safeguarding the environment in order to make its growth sustainable, said Wu Yuetao, a researcher from government think tank the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
After a decade of industrialization and growth, China is now the world's largest energy producer and consumer.
However, prosperity based on overstretched natural resources has caused a worsening environment and a heavy burden to control pollution.
If not controlled, China's energy demand will surge to 5.3 billion tons of coal equivalent in 2020 and seven billion tons in 2030, Wu has calculated.
At the same time, however, he urged that China should not restrain its economic advance in the name of cutting energy consumption.
He Jiankun, director of the Low Carbon Energy Lab under Tsinghua University, said there is an urgent need for China to reform its energy structure.
While energy requirements are flat in developed countries, they are in massive flux in China. Structural adjustment there is like changing the tires of a speeding vehicle.
Nearly 70 percent of the energy consumed in China comes from coal, a ratio much higher than in developed countries, which use cleaner resources like oil and gas.
Despite great endeavors from the central government to wean China off its reliance on coal, this most primary energy source will continue to fuel the country's economic engine, symposium delegates agreed.
China has the world's third-largest territory, rich in coal but lacking gas and oil.
In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for restructuring of the country's energy sector to be stepped up in light of changing dynamics in the global energy market.
While acknowledging the challenges, he promised to take steps to rein in irrational energy use and establish a diversified system featuring cleaner coal, as well as use of other fuels and new energy.
Tsinghua's He said Xi's aspirations are in line with the current world trend in energy development, as European countries are all encouraging energy saving, improving efficiency and promoting new energy use.
To propel the revolution, China should promote new consumption habits and make technological innovations to save energy, Wu said.
China should also expand international energy cooperation to ensure external supplies, he added.
Eyeing improvement in China's energy structure, Tsinghua's He predicted that the proportion of non-fossil energy use will reach 15 percent in China, equivalent to 700 million tons of standard coal, or the combined annual energy demand of Britain and Germany, in 2020.
In 2030, the ratio will increase to 20 to 25 percent and that of coal will fall below 50 percent, he said.