China to Close Factories to Stave Off Power Crisis


2004-07-20
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The authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou will order both foreign and domestic factories to close during the power-hungry summer months for up to four days a week in order to stave off a mounting energy crisis, RFA reports.

Aimed at alleviating a summer power shortfall estimated at 20,000 megawatts, the closures at hundreds of plants are among measures being adopted in Hangzhou to prevent the region's electricity grid from crashing.

"The problems that China is facing in the energy sector are greater than they were in the early and mid-1990s."

Foreign and local firms alike in Hangzhou have been told to suspend output three days a week, while larger ones that operate around the clock must keep within agreed usage quotas, Reuters quoted a local power bureau official as saying.

The city is facing a power shortage of 1.3 million kilowatts this summer, state media quoted Hangzhou vice mayor Shen Jian as saying. Hotels, restaurants, malls, supermarkets and office buildings in the city had been asked to use just half their air-conditioners, and half of all lights in the downtown area would be switched off daily.

In Beijing, workers at 6,389 enterprises were told to take "one-week vacations," the official Xinhua news agency reported recently.

China's State Council has made energy conservation the top priority of its new energy policy as the country suffers some of the worst power shortages since the 1980s. But experts say the government has made similar promises in the past amid signs that the new policy is already proving hard to enforce.

"The problems that China is facing in the energy sector are greater than they were in the early and mid-1990s," Philip Andrew-Speed, China energy expert at the University of Dundee , told RFA in a recent interview.

"So they're serious from the point of view of recognizing that something needs to be done. What isn't clear from what we've been able to see is whether they have a new approach that is going to be more effective," he said.

Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, agreed. "I think that the intentions in Beijing are sincere, but that this has the potential to be yet another grand-scale campaign that will fall by the wayside, as many grand-scale campaigns in China do."

China uses far more energy to produce goods than other countries, a factor called energy intensity. Last month, Zheng Jianchao of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said China had reduced its energy intensity by four percent a year since 1977, but it is still 4.6 times higher than for Western industrialized nations.

"Shanghai, for example, has had a green culture' campaign under way that has produced things in the way of parks and the greening of Shanghai, but was also supposed to produce 'green' buildings and real improvements in energy efficiency in terms of buildings," Economy told RFA reporter Michael Lelyveld. "But this again has shown up in only a few buildings in the city over the past several years."

Kang Wu, head of China energy projects at the University of Hawaii, said China's economic growth rate was now lagging behind energy consumption for the first time in 25 years. Last year, the country's gross domestic product grew by 9.1 percent, but power consumption rose by 15 percent year-on-year.

"The shortage of 2003-2004 really served as a wake-up call to the government and policy-makers that they cannot go about business as usual to achieve the same goals. They have to do something more serious. But it's harder," Wu said.

"Even if they are serious, it's getting harder because the economy's freer and you cannot just order people to do things unless you have economic weight and carry the big stick to implement those [steps]."

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