Chinese Energy Claims Baffle Experts

Power grids are set up along the Yangtze River at the Three Gorges dam. Photo: AFP/Liu Jin

WASHINGTON—China’s power shortages have eased over the last year, but experts say they are baffled by official claims that the country has started to produce more electricity and coal than it needs.

Frank Verrastro, director of the energy program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that such pronouncements are made “for public consumption.”

I’ve seen no indication that there’s a surplus of power generation capacity at this point.

“I’ve seen no indication that there’s a surplus of power generation capacity at this point,” he added.

Verrastro said greater rainfall during the last year had temporarily increased China’s supply of hydropower, which accounts for a quarter of China’s electrical generating capacity.

Mixed signals

China’s claims of sufficient electric power over the long term appear to be “optimistic forecasts that the government will be able to supply enough energy to keep the economy on track,” Verrastro said.

A U.K.-based energy expert said that China is also sending mixed signals about the country’s need for coal.

Philip Andrews-Speed, director of the University of Dundee’s Center for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy in Scotland, said these were particularly confusing “at a time when they’re trying to shut down coal mines which are having accidents.”

Pointing to a recent government-ordered halt to the construction of a number of coal-fired projects, Andrews-Speed called this a “crude instrument” for controlling China’s economy.

Such measures work, said Andrews-Speed, but are “very costly.”

“Because a lot of money and resources have been spent doing something that is then not commissioned,” he said.

Verrastro said that, despite government efforts, China will probably continue to face energy shortages because its economy keeps growing.

“If demand rises and economic development continues, I don’t see how they’re in anything but a power deficit for the next several years.”

Original reporting by Michael Lelyveld for RFA's Wu (Shanghai) dialect service. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Edited for the Web by Richard Finney.


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