Beijing feels the pinch of winter gas shortage
Officials in power-hungry Beijing are considering ways to get over a natural gas shortage the extent of which has not been seen in 20 years.
Supply has this year been ensured only by reducing industrial and motor vehicle consumption.
"The shortage has given us a lot of food for thought. It is very worrying that much of the city depends on this source of energy and there is only one pipeline," said Mayor Wang Qishan at a financial annual meeting on Tuesday.
An alarm about the energy dearth was sounded on December 31, when the mayor received a report saying that natural gas storage in the neighbouring Tianjin Municipality, which is the major gas reserve for Beijing, had dropped to 470 million cubic metres from the original 1.1 billion cubic metres in early November.
It means that more than half the gas reserves had been used up although there was still more than two-thirds of the heating season to go. Heating in Beijing will be switched off on March 15.
Beijing has used about 22 million cubic metres of natural gas every day this winter, said Li Jianzhong, a researcher with the Petroleum Exploration and Development Research Institute of PetroChina.
But the pipeline from the inland province of Shaanxi in Northwest China can only provide up to 10.3 million cubic metres a day all the year round. More than 95 per cent of the city's natural gas consumption is provided by the pipeline, Li said.
The shortfall of gas supply in winter is filled by gas from Tianjin. In spring and summer, when the city's demand drops dramatically, the surplus will be stored up for winter use, said Li.
Wang Qishan said if consumption remained high, gas supplies would not meet the demands of the coming Spring Festival and the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
These sessions, in March, are among the most important political events in China.
As a result, the city has had to draw up an emergency plan for natural gas supplies, halting or reducing supply for industrial use and replacing more than 1,300 natural gas-powered buses with oil-fuelled ones.
"Actually, the municipal government has set about preparing the energy supply for this winter since August last year," said Wang.
He said the massive gas shortages had happened because the government failed to take into account the new gas-fuelled boilers in the suburbs and in new residential estates.
To reduce air pollution, the capital city has been gradually replacing coal-burning boilers with gas-fuelled ones since the late 1990s.
"A banker once told me that the devil lies in the details. Now I fully understand the saying. The cause of the energy dearth this time lies in the details," said Wang.
"A vice-mayor and I made a 'ridiculous' decision on the night of January 10 that we are to check the gas meters of every boiler in the city's eight urban districts.
"After eight days, we found that real gas consumption as shown by the meters is not close to that reported by district governments. Yet the real figure is critical for decision-making."