Wintry Beijing tackles heating shortfalls
The Beijing municipal government took the lead in lowering office temperatures Tuesday in an effort to save heat, after reported shortages of energy this winter.
Mayor Wang Qishan called for people in all walks of life to cut back on heat use to save resources. A directive Wang issued calls for suspending natural gas supplies to some industrial enterprises, buses running on natural gas, large-scale boilers, the city's outskirts and some of the public sites to control energy use.
Stores, hotels and office buildings are also included.
A cold front has dominated the city for almost 20 days and posed a great challenge to the city's heating system.
Officials said that 88 per cent of the natural gas supply in the city was being used for heating.
Meanwhile, some 230,000 newly registered natural gas users pushed the total gas-using household numbers to 3.8 million in 2004, according to Beijing Gas Company, a major gas supplier.
The overall consumption for natural gas reached 2.32 billion cubic metres last year.
Statistics show that daily gas consumption rose 47.6 per cent from December 16 to 31, compared with the same period in 2003.
In peak consumption times, 10 million more cubic metres of gas are needed than during 2003.
The Shaanxi-Beijing pipeline is the major source for the city's natural gas supply.
However, the pipeline is overloaded, a source with China National Petroleum Corporation said.
The designed daily transit capacity has been expanded from the original 16.1 million cubic metres to 26.3 million cubic metres since December 2003, to better cater to the city's need.
Set up in 1997, the 1,098-kilometre-long pipeline supplied more than 6 billion cubic metres of gas to the capital by the end of 2003.
Beijing District Heating Group, a large energy consumer, has seen its gas supply cut off in the current emergency, but said it is little affected.
"As the city's huge 'boiler' that supplies heat to numerous families and offices, 90 per cent of our energy comes from coal-fired boilers, not gas," said Liu Guanchun, with the group.
The group is responsible for supplying heat to more than 88 million square metres of space in Beijing, said Liu.
Things are different with other enterprises.
Ding, a local media employee, said her husband's enterprise - a joint-venture manufacturing construction materials - has begun to adopt other energy instead of natural gas.
In fact, the effects go beyond enterprises to the local residents.
Xiao Yang, living in the Sun-Star City in Chaoyang District, complains that he has to go out to public facilities for a shower instead of doing so at home.
Grandpa Yang Xulai, in his early 70s, has renovated his home's heating system with a renovated a furnace. He has tried to maintain a warm indoor temperature of around 20 C.
Living in a courtyard in Kuanjie residential area in downtown Beijing, Yang uses a renovated Sunpu high-efficiency heating furnace, fuelled by so-called clean coal. It is connected to steam radiators.
Yang's home has three rooms. However, to maintain enough heat in the main bedroom, the couple has cut off heat to the second bedroom this winter.
"This way, we make our main bedroom warmer than last winter because of the renovation," said Yang.
Yang has to place coal in the furnace several times a day.
Blamed as one of the major pollutants in affecting the city's air each winter, coal remains a main source for heat for many Beijing residents.
In recent years, Beijing has introduced tougher measures to alleviate the city's chronic air pollution by accelerating a conversion to cleaner fuels, including low-sulphur coal and natural gas.
Yang's neighbours across the street in the Kuanjie area are using natural gas.
Local authorities have promised to install a natural gas heating system for Yang's home in the near future.
However, others might not be as lucky.
Liu Jianguo, a Beijing taxi driver, said he prefers to stay in his car because his home's temperature is so uncomfortably cold.
"I have to wear heavy woolly clothes at home because the furnace does not provide enough heat," said Liu, who lives in Fengtai District in southern Beijing.
Huang Xiaodi, 31, an employee of a small IT company in Beijing, believes his office "might have been the coldest office in the city when the chilly weather hit town two weeks ago."
Huang's office uses air conditioners for heating. However, the limited air conditioners cannot keep the whole office warm enough.
Huang's employer finally bought several electric heaters, responding to calls from employees.
People in the city will likely have to wear their heavy winter coats the rest of this month, with additional cold fronts expected for the region as is predicted by meteorologists.
Although Beijing has witnessed an early warm winter in November and early December, two degrees higher than the average temperature in the previous years, several cold fronts in late December and early January sent the mercury on a rapid plunge, said Sun Yefu, a Beijing Meteorological Bureau researcher.