Five million in southwest China face power cuts in heatwave
Sichuan province began limiting electricity supply to homes, offices and malls on Wednesday.
BEIJING: More than five million people in southwest China were facing rolling power cuts Wednesday (Aug 17) as a heatwave creates an electricity supply crunch that has forced factories to stop work.
Temperatures across Sichuan province have surpassed 40 degrees Celsius in recent days, causing demand for air conditioning to spike.
The region also relies heavily on dams to generate its electricity but the heat has caused reservoirs to dry up, exacerbating the energy shortage.
Sichuan began limiting electricity supply to homes, offices and malls on Wednesday, according to state media and one power company.
Residential areas, offices and shopping malls in Dazhou, a city of 5.4 million people, were informed of rotating brownouts each lasting several hours throughout Wednesday, according to the official WeChat account of state-run Dazhou Power Group.
Residential brownouts are rare as China typically limits power supply to industries first to prioritise residential and commercial use in any power squeeze.
In what appears to be an official call to conserve electricity use, government offices were asked to set air conditioners to no lower than 26 degrees Celsius and use more staircases instead of lifts, the provincial government-run Sichuan Daily said in a front-page report on Wednesday.
Fountains, light shows and commercial activities during the night hours are to be suspended, the paper said.
Sichuan, which relies on hydropower to generate 80 per cent its power, on Sunday ordered producers of lithium, fertilisers and other metals to shut plants or curb output amid the worst heatwave in 60 years.
Soaring temperatures and little rain this summer have reduced hydropower generation in the province of 83.75 million people, while also boosting power demand for air conditioning.
Analysts said that if the heatwave persists, the power crunch could spill over to eastern provinces like Zhejiang and Jiangsu which have relied partly on buying electricity from Sichuan.
In an effort to bring relief to the drought-hit Yangtze river basin, China is taking emergency action to bring more water to the area.
It is deploying relief funds, seeding clouds and developing new supply sources as the record-breaking heat damages crops and livestock.
The Ministry of Water Resources said in a notice on Wednesday that drought throughout the Yangtze river basin was "adversely affecting drinking water security of rural people and livestock, and the growth of crops".
It urged regions to make accurate assessments of drought-affected areas and devise plans to maintain water supplies, including through temporary water transfers, the development of new sources and the extension of pipe networks.
To boost downstream supplies, the Three Gorges Dam, China's biggest hydropower project, will also increase water discharges by 500 million cubic metres over the next 10 days, it said on Tuesday.
Some livestock from drought-hit areas had been temporarily relocated to other regions, the Ministry of Finance said earlier this week, adding that it would issue 300 million yuan (US$44.30 million) in disaster relief.
On Wednesday, central China's Hubei province became the latest to announce an extensive weather modification programme, deploying planes to fire silver iodide rods into the clouds to induce rainfall.
Other regions on the Yangtze have also launched "cloud seeding" programmes, but with cloud cover too thin, operations in some drought-ravaged parts of the Yangtze basin have remained on standby.
China's heatwave has now lasted 64 days, making it the longest since full records began in 1961, state media said on Wednesday, citing data from the National Climate Center.
The number of weather stations recording temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius and above has reached 262, also the highest. Eight have hit 44 degrees Celsius.
Persistently high temperatures would continue in the Sichuan Basin and large parts of central China until Aug 26, the centre forecast.
A "special case" of high pressure from the West Pacific subtropical high, stretching across much of Asia, is likely to be the cause of the extreme heat, said Cai Wenju, climate researcher with CSIRO, Australia's national scientific research institute.