The streets are not lit, the elevators are not working, many households across China suffer from alternating power cuts for days.
Chinese homes are starting to feel pressure to reduce carbon emissions from the government because electricity bills soar in the summer and limited power supplies, forcing local governments to turn off electricity.
Power outages in several northern Chinese provinces caused street lights and traffic lights to stop working last weekend, causing kilometer-long jams in some cities. People in high-rise apartment buildings have to take the stairs because the building management stops the elevator to save electricity.
Video in Beijing News showed traffic jams on a highway in the capital Shenyang last week, when there were no traffic lights or street lights due to a power outage.
“The power is cut off 8 times a day, 4 days in a row. I have nothing to say,” a Liaoning resident expressed.
Others complain that shopping malls close early, a convenience store has to use candles. “Feels like living in North Korea,” one person wrote.
CCTV reported that a factory in northeastern China’s Liaoning province had to send 23 workers to the hospital due to CO2 poisoning after the ventilation fan stopped working because of a power outage.
Goldman Sachs on September 28 lowered its annual economic growth forecast for China as power shortages affect millions of homes and factories, including some that make orders for Apple and Tesla. At least 17 provinces and regions that account for 66% of the country’s gross domestic product have announced some form of power cut in recent months, mostly to heavy industry, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Nearly 60% of China’s economy uses thermal power, but supply disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as pressure to reduce emissions and reduce coal imports due to trade tensions with Australia.
Beijing Electric Power Company said there will be a series of power cuts in the capital in the near future, sometimes lasting nearly 10 hours, as part of a “maintenance plan”. The heavy industrial belt in the northeast of the city, with thousands of cement kilns and power-hungry steel mills, was one of the hardest hit areas.
The main reason for power shortage in northern China is rising coal prices and supply shortages, while in the south is hydroelectricity. China’s southern provinces like Guangdong have been without electricity since June, when local authorities asked factories to properly allocate power and cut output.
30% of the electricity that Guangdong uses comes from hydroelectricity from Yunnan province. But the warmer-than-usual summer caused hydroelectric reservoirs to dry up, while a surge in export orders caused a spike in industrial electricity demand in Guangdong, leading to power shortages.
Hydropower demand in Yunnan has also skyrocketed. Beijing’s push to cut carbon emissions in the industrial sector has forced aluminum smelters to move to hydropower-rich provinces.
In the northern provinces, which depend on fossil fuels to generate electricity, it is difficult for provincial governments to meet Beijing’s 2019 carbon emission regulations.
“Some provinces exceeded their emissions targets in August and they were forced to turn off power,” said David Fishman, a consultant with energy firm Lantau.
But according to him, the emission reduction policy introduced by the Chinese government is only a secondary cause of electricity shortages. The main culprits are rising coal and gas prices that have doubled in China this year as global “post-pandemic” demand revives. Not only China, Britain is also experiencing an energy crisis so severe that it threatens the food supply.
In Guangdong on September 27, where the temperature reached 33 degrees Celsius, households were asked to turn off the air conditioner. The local government allows electricity suppliers to increase selling prices. This is a good thing, says Fishman.
“This is the first time we’ve found out how much more the Chinese are willing to pay for fossil fuels,” Fishman said. “If you want to approach the market in the direction of cutting carbon emissions, you have to know how much consumers are willing to pay for electricity.”
Hong Hanh (Follow AFP / Fortune)