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China Races to Combat Power Outages Before Winter Hits

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: November 1, 2021
People ride on motorbike during a power outage after Typhoon Hato in Macau, 2017. (Image: Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

As the deadliest winter months approach, authorities in China are scrambling to tackle its most recent energy crisis. With millions of homes and businesses hit by power outages, it has become a race against time to ensure proper heating for residents in the country’s northeastern regions, where temperatures can dip well below zero degrees, starting as early as mid-December.

China’s economic planner, the National Development and Commission (NDRC), has outlined a number of measures to combat the growing crisis, with an unprecedented mandate ordering mines to “produce as much coal as possible” and increasing the price of electricity by 20 percent to incentivise ambivalent power plants to quickly ramp up production.

The China Electricity Council, which represents power firms, has also asked companies to generate power using nuclear energy, as well as increasing solar, hydro and wind turbines to mitigate outages in its most vulnerable residential areas.

Coal costs have skyrocketed as the world resumes post-pandemic life and increasing demand for Chinese goods means factories require more power to operate.

And as electricity demand increased, so has the price of coal.

The campaign will require a Herculean effort equivalent to coal production exceeding gas emissions that all of Europe’s mines combined produce in a whole year.

The urgent push will come at a high cost, as burning coal will increase China’s greenhouse emissions and toxic air pollution.

Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo said China’s extra coal production by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point.

“But the short term reality is that China and many others have little choice but to increase coal consumption to meet power demand,” said Gavin Thompson, Asia Pacific vice chair of consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie.

The New York Times reported China is expanding mines to produce 220 million metric tons of extra coal per year, a nearly 6 percent rise from last year. China already mines and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined.

And with the holiday shopping season fast approaching, Goldman Sachs has estimated that as much as 44 percent of the country’s industrial activity has been affected by the outages.

Experts warn the disruptions could suggest negative ripple effects on the world’s second largest economy for months to come.