China’s power grid operator denied there was an energy crisis and vowed to upgrade the national power grid and guarantee normal power supply amid a rolling wave of outages around the country, state media reported on Wednesday.
The cuts and restrictions have been implemented piecemeal by local governments, often with scant warning and little explanation, sparking public anger, as well as uncertainty over whether the problem lies with a chronic shortage of generating capacity.
“China’s energy supply capacity is is currently sufficient to meet demand,” State Grid Corp. said in comments reported by the Global Times, a newspaper with close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). “China has no energy crisis,” it said.
It said it is currently rolling out measures to unify the entire national grid, enabling inter-regional and inter-provincial delivery of energy to solve the problem of limited supply in other parts of the country.
The power cuts were trending on Chinese social media, with around 500 million searches on the topic on Monday, the Global Times said.
It quoted an economist as saying that the power shortages were “actually a game between central and local governments.”
The paper also cited government statistics as saying that China currently has an installed power generation capacity of 2.2 billion kilowatts.
Residents of northeastern China have taken to social media in recent days to document unexpected power outages leaving no traffic signals on dark streets, with shops illuminated by makeshift lighting and even candles.
Some said they were suffering in the heat after air conditioning systems went down, while others sought reasons for the power cuts.
“A powerful China can save the so-called princess but can’t seem to manage the electricity consumption of 90 million people in the northeast,” Weibo user @Daozhimaifudazusheng commented, in a barbed reference to the return of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou from house arrest in Canada.
Jilin resident Liu Fang said there is all kinds of speculation about the reasons for the cuts, including that the CCP is experimenting with public responses to disaster, or trying to prevent the public from finding out information online.
“[So many] companies have stopped production or closed down due to the power outages,” Liu said. “They can’t fulfill their orders, and the workers can’t get paid.”
“The government doesn’t seem to be taking responsibility for the situation.”
Patience wearing thin
A current affairs commentator surnamed Zhao, who is currently in outage-hit Kunshan city, Jiangsu province, said people’s patience with the government is wearing thin.
“It’s not that we’ve never had power outages in the past, but this time people are exhausted due to the uncertainty over the reasons for it, and they have diminishing tolerance,” Zhao said.
“The sense of dissatisfaction is resonating loudly online, and the impact of the power outages is pretty big; people are complaining loudly and in large numbers,” he said.
Power rationing may be the order of the day, with a state newspaper in the southeastern province of Fujian reporting that “phased and orderly” power consumption will be in effect from the end of the month.
The Fujian provincial power company would boost supplies to meet a two million kilowatt shortfall between October and December, the Fujian Daily newspaper reported.
Regional energy consultancy the Lantau Group said there are a number of factors contributing to the power outages and rationing in China.
It said in a report that some provinces are facing a shortfall of power supply after operators of coal-fired power stations stopped operating in the face of skyrocketing coal prices.
Others have adopted power rationing as a way to meet annual energy control targets for the year, known as “dual control” objective.
And regions that typically import power from elsewhere in China to meet chronic shortfalls are now unable to do so, owing to the first two factors, the report said.
It quoted the China Electricity Council as saying that coal mines are halting production following safety incidents and that applications for expansion of coal production are stuck in the bureaucratic pipeline, while the Inner Mongolian coal industry has been hit by a huge corruption scandal.
Some coal generators are idling their plants or only operating at a minimum capacity factor, as they are currently incurring losses on all their generation, according to the Lantau Group.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.