By Yang Xingyun(杨兴云)
Focus, Page No.10
Issue No. 534, Sep. 05, 2011
Translated by Li Meng
Original article: [Chinese]
Southern China is facing a new round of power shortages. Manufacturing enterprises in all major cities in Pearl River Delta area were asked to cut power at different hours of the day for varying lengths of time, mostly two to four days per week. People are concerned that the power cuts might limit factories’ capacity and increase the likelihood of an economic slowdown.
Due to insufficient water volumes, the daily average generating capacity of Goupitan hydropower station - the largest one in Guizhou province has dropped to 8 million kilowatts, which is a tenth of the daily capacity in a normal year. The situation will certainly continue in the upcoming dry season from autumn to winter. As the “leading province” in the “West to East Electricity Transmission Project” , Guizhou province officially started the level-1 drought relief emergency response after China Southern Power Grid, or CSG, issued the most severe power shortage warning since August.
Yuqing county, where Guizhou province ‘s largest hydropower station is located, hasn’t had a single heavy rainfall since last autumn, according to the statistics provided by local government. The county’s water storage has fallen by 75%, compared to last year, drying out 18 of its 20 watercourses and 48 of its reservoirs.
Since the late March, the province’s western and mid-northern region has been suffering sustained and extensive drought and the annual rainfall along all river basins is down 60% to 80% from last year. The Wujiang River area, where most of the major hydropower stations are distributed, has been struck especially hard by the dry weather and dramatic fall in water levels.
Guizhou is the biggest national contributor to the “West to East Electricity Transmission Project”, with 25 hydropower and thermal power projects since 2000 that have a total installed capacity of 25.4 million kilowatts. However, the province has had to reduce its daily electricity transmission from 154 million kilowatt hours to 100 million kWh in the first half of this year.
The other main cause of the power shortage in southern China is limited thermal power generation due to shortage of coal. Affected by coal deficit, poor quality and maintenance of generating units, thermal electricity generation in Guangxi, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces has severely contracted.
Guizhou has been the biggest coal producing province and major coal export region of southern China with estimated reserves of 240 billion tons. However the tight thermal coal supply caused a 10% decline in thermal power generation.
In addition, large scale reorganization of small sized coal mines in major coal producing areas has also contributed to the supply crunch. A capacity decrease of 25 million tons resulted from the closing of mine shafts.
Nevertheless, China Southern Power Grid didn’t cut Guizhou any slack on its electricity transmission quota. At one stage, the local government hoped to expand the running time of thermal power generating units to increase capacity but this has had little effect so far.
Although various efforts has been made by local government, the slump in thermal coal supply remains and has even deteriorated since August, with a large number of state-owned key coal mining enterprises failing to achieve their target.
In order to motivate the coal enterprises to meet the required coal supply, Guizhou government established a “reward and punishment” system. The regions and enterprises which exceed the quota would be rewarded, but those who didn’t meet their share would be punished with more power cuts. Liupanshui city, the biggest coal producing area in Guizhou, was therefore punished with a 20% reduction in daily electricity consumption. However, this measure still hasn’t worked as well as expected.
Furthermore, safety has also played a role in limiting coal supply. Because of the weak foundation of coal mining industry in Guizhou province, accidents happens frequently and the province has had the highest fatality figures for several years in a row. Coal mine safety was therefore prioritized by local regulators. When potential safety hazards are found, mines are ordered to halt production. Although some officials reported the suspension or closure of coal mine activities as one of the major reasons leading to shortages in coal supply, local provincial governments have insisted that it won’t compromise the safety for coal output.
Some experts believe that more market-oriented coal pricing mechanisms and price controls in electricity are also contributing factors. The obvious coal price differences inside and outside of the province create losses that demotivate both coal businesses and power companies.
All the above factors, to certain extent, have exacerbated southern China’s new round of power shortages.
(This story was corrected on Sept 15, to show that Guizhou Province's daily electricity transmission in the first half of the year fell to 100 million kilowatt hours, not to one million kilowatt hours.)