July 15, 2024

China Braces Itself for Power Shortages

BEIJING — Heavy rains in central China last week will help China produce extra hydroelectric power in the coming weeks, but not enough to avoid severe electricity shortages this summer, Chinese officials said Wednesday.

Many factories in the country’s export-oriented eastern provinces are already losing electricity from the grid during the daytime for one to three days a week. That forces them to operate at night, run on costly diesel generators or reduce output.

The national grid has given priority to maintaining electricity supplies for residential customers, particularly in cities. But in small towns and rural areas, many homes are also losing power needed to use the more than 100 million air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances sold since the start of 2009 with government subsidies aimed at narrowing the gap in the standard of living between cities and the rest of the country.

The official newspaper China Daily reported Tuesday that large office buildings in Shanghai were being asked to turn off their air-conditioning for an hour this summer each time the outdoor temperature exceeded 35 degrees Celsius (94 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition to factory blackouts, nonindustrial businesses like stores will be asked to close in Shanghai when the temperature climbs above 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the newspaper said.

Shanghai lies at a latitude similar to Atlanta and has a similar climate.

Liu Baohua, the deputy director general of power market regulation at the State Electricity Regulatory Commission, said Wednesday that heavy rain had meant that the outlook for hydroelectric power was “much better” than earlier this year.

The rains have been heavy enough to cause considerable flooding along tributaries of the Yangtze River.

But Mr. Liu went on to warn, “We are facing unprecedented difficulties to meet electricity demand.”

Hydroelectric dams represent 22 percent of China’s power generation capacity but need full reservoirs to reach that capacity. Drought in large areas of China reduced hydroelectric output in the first half of this year.

Li Jing, the director of strategic development at China Three Gorges, the biggest hydroelectric power generation company in the country, agreed that the recent rains would not fix the problem.

“The rainfall will definitely help ease the power shortage, but it’s hard to say how much it will help — personally, I would say it will make no substantial difference,” he said.

An even bigger problem has been that electric utilities have delayed the completion of new coal-fired plants and operated their existing coal-fired plants below full capacity. Those plants represent 73 percent of the Chinese power generation capacity. Coal prices have surged in the past two years, but to fight inflation, the government has allowed only minimal increases in electricity prices paid by homes and businesses.

Zhao Xiaoyong, the vice general manager at GS Solar, a thin-film solar panel producer based in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, said that while solar panel prices were falling 5 percent to 10 percent a year, they were still not affordable enough to offer a large-scale alternative to electricity from the grid during power shortages like the one expected this summer.

The Chinese Finance Ministry has for several years been considering a national program to subsidize buyers of solar panels but has given no indication that it is near a decision.

Mr. Liu, Mr. Li and Mr. Zhao all spoke in interviews on the sidelines of the China Power and Clean Energy Expo, an annual conference with government backing that opened in Beijing on Wednesday.

Mia Li contributed research.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/business/global/23iht-power23.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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