Frequent power cuts torment China amid record heatwave

Published August 18, 2022
A WOMAN walks on the exposed riverbed of Yangtze river on a hot day in Chongqing, China, on Wednesday.—Reuters
A WOMAN walks on the exposed riverbed of Yangtze river on a hot day in Chongqing, China, on Wednesday.—Reuters

SHANGHAI: China is scrambling to alleviate power shortages and bring more water to the drought-hit basin of the Yangtze river as it battles a record-breaking heatwave by deploying relief funds, seeding clouds and developing new sources of supply.

For more than two months, baking temperatures have disrupted crop growth, threatened livestock and forced industries in the hydropower-dependent regions of the southwest to shut down so as to ensure electricity supplies for homes.

China has repeatedly warned that it faces a proliferation of extreme weather events in coming years as it tries to adapt to climate change and rises in temperature that are likely to be more severe than elsewhere.

The current extreme heat is likely to stem from a “special case” of high pressure from a West Pacific subtropical high extending over much of Asia, said Cai Wenju, a researcher with Australia’s national scientific research institute, CSIRO.

On Wednesday, China’s southwestern province of Sichuan said it would ration power supplies to homes, offices and shopping malls, after having already ordered energy-intensive metals and fertiliser producers to curb operations.

In what appears to be an official call to cut back use of electricity, government offices were asked to set air conditioners no lower than 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) and use more staircases instead of lifts, the Sichuan Daily, run by the provincial government, said. Fountains, light shows and commercial activities after dark are to be suspended, it added.

Power shortages have also prompted several companies in the sprawling Chongqing region bordering Sichuan to say they would suspend production.

Chinese vice premier Han Zheng visited the State Grid Corporation on Wednesday and said further efforts were needed to ensure power supply for residents and key industries, and to prevent power cuts, according to a state media report.

China should accelerate the construction of key projects, improve power load management and promote the joint operation of coal power and renewable energy, Han said.

Hydropower makes up about 80pc of Sichuan’s power capacity, but dwindling water flows on the Yangtze and its tributaries led to a struggle to meet mounting demand for air conditioning as temperatures soared to 40C(104F) and beyond.

Average precipitation in Sichuan is 51pc less than that of previous years, according to state news agency Xinhua, which cited the provincial branch of State Grid.

Some reservoirs have dried up, after water from major rivers reduced by as much as half, it said. Drought throughout the Yangtze river basin was also “adversely affecting” drinking water for rural people and livestock, as well as the growth of crops, the water resources ministry said in a notice.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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