Power shortages aren’t a new thing in China, but now they’re getting an Olympic twist. This post on Danwei shows today’s Yantai Evening News, which reports on the drastic measures being taken in parts of Shandong to ensure adequate power for the Olympics, and to keep the television sets on for viewers at home.
“From August 8 to August 25, all big power consumers including steel plants, mines (except for coal mines), cement mills and chemical factories will suspend production; half of all street lamps will be turned off; air con thermostats in shopping mall, hotels, offices will be kept above 26 °C.”
Danwei notes that no official explanations have been given for the power shortages. That’s not surprising – the explanation that China’s power system is rife with intractable flaws might be a bit much for a casual government statement. Here’s a quick overview of some of the larger problems, which were covered in more detail in our June cover story:
– Huge distances between sources of energy (coal mines in the north and west) and demand centers (the eastern and especially southeastern coast)
– Inadequate freight rail links for carrying coal
– Underdeveloped power transmission networks
– Low retail power tariffs combined with pricey coal, making profitability a distant dream for power producers, and discouraging investment in new generation capacity
– Massive growth in demand for power
Those factors are no different in Shandong than anywhere else in China. Like many eastern provinces, its consumption of energy exceeds in-province production by more than 20%, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2007 World Energy Outlook report.
That these shortages are being seen before the Olympics even begin suggests the games are less to blame than an already-fragile power system. But why Shandong? Down in Shanghai, which is even more distant from the northern coal mines, and where you could probably grill yangrou chuan this summer by holding a skewer out of an open window, we haven’t been seeing these kinds of shortages.
Part of the reason is that Olympic-host-city Shanghai is going to get preferential treatment of a kind that won’t be enjoyed by second- and third-tier cities in Shandong. But one bit of data in the World Energy Outlook presents an intriguing possibility:
In 2006, average end-user power prices in Shandong were the third-cheapest of any province in eastern and central China (only Henan and Hebei were cheaper). On the other hand, Shanghai’s power was the second-priciest in the country after Guangdong. Could excessively cheap power in Shandong be aggravating the situation there?
There are problems with the pricey-power-means-no-cuts argument, of course – parts of Guangdong face regular shortages. Nevertheless, it makes some sense – certainly more than any Olympic connection.