Resolving China’s Power Shortage(c)
Shanghai is China’s financial and business hub. In late July 2004, with daytime
temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius, the city’s electricity consumption
surged to a weekly record of 14.35 million kilowatt hours. The city authorities
resorted to asking 2,100 businesses to operate at night, and a further 3,000
others to adjust operating hours.
Even high-profile multinational companies were not spared. General
Motors and Volkswagen were ordered to suspend production for more than a
week each. Shanghai Volkswagen spokesman Lu Jun explained, “It's a rule. We
have to cut power for 10 days … We’ve cut power and so have had to stop
production. It's all over Shanghai”.1
The Shanghai episode mirrored a nationwide shortage of electric power.
In Beijing, on July 22, 2004, the Municipal Power Supply Bureau imposed the
capital’s first brownout of the year, disrupting supply to suburban areas for 47
minutes in the afternoon.
The Chinese government has certainly been working tirelessly to resolve
the power crisis. Thermal coal is the principal fuel used to generate electric
power in China.
In July, Premier Wen Jiabao exhorted, “Railway departments should do
their utmost for the transport of coal for electricity generation”.2 The Ministry of
Railways increased train speed and freight loads, and allocated 90% of freight
capacity to transport key materials. In the first half of 2004, Chinese railways
shipped 480 million tons of coal, up 12.2% over the same period last year.
The Ministry of Communications has also pitched in. It diverted ships from
overseas routes to domestic coal transport and approved emergency coal
transportation on various roads and waterways.
China is the world’s second-biggest coal exporter. In 2003, China
exported 93 million tons of coal, including 80.8 million tons of thermal coal. To
assure supplies to the electric power industry, the Chinese government has
limited coal exports to 80 million tons in 2