Chinese switch to flashlights, generators amid power cuts
By Canadian Manufacturing
People in northeastern China ate breakfast by the light of smartphones and shopkeepers turned on generators as much of the country enforced power cuts on Sept. 29 to meet official conservation targets and ease shortages in some areas.
News reports blame high coal prices they say make power companies reluctant to meet booming demand, while economists say the real motive is political: Officials are under pressure to curtail energy use to meet official targets.
Factories in China’s busiest manufacturing provinces have been ordered to suspend production for up to a week, prompting concern global supplies of smartphones and other goods might be disrupted. Now, urban neighborhoods are being blacked out, triggering pleas on social media for the government to solve the problem.
China’s power consumption is growing at almost double its usual rate, while the ruling Communist Party is trying to reduce energy intensity, or the amount used per unit of economic output.
The power cuts come as global leaders prepare to attend a U.N. environmental conference by video link on Oct. 12-13 in the southwestern city of Kunming. That increases pressure on President Xi Jinping’s government, as the meeting’s host, to show it is sticking to emissions and energy efficiency targets.
The cuts are “largely driven by energy consumption control measures, with power shortages affecting another few provinces,” Lara Dong of IHS Markit said in an email.
“This is in line with China’s decarbonization ambitions,” she said.
The Cabinet’s planning agency warned in August that 20 regions had exceeded energy use and pollution targets after manufacturing rebounded from the pandemic. The government has ambitious plans to make the economy cleaner and more energy-efficient, so failing to meet those targets can be a career-ending blunder.
The power cuts “could be more disruptive than previous shortages,” Bank of America said in a report. Due to shortages in some areas, it said, “a relaxation of the government’s energy consumption goals may not immediately alleviate the power crunch.”
China is one of the world’s biggest emitters of climate-changing industrial gases and consumes more energy per unit of economic output than developed countries. Given its huge population, on a per capita basis it ranks much lower.
Officials in Jiangsu province, a manufacturing hub northwest of Shanghai, told state media some cities there have used up 90% of this year’s quota for power use. The officials of the provincial planning agency were cited as saying individual city governments had to decide how to meet their targets.
The government of Guangdong province, China’s biggest manufacturing center, has cited both official energy use limits and low water levels in hydropower reservoirs that provide a big share of its electricity.