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Blackouts hit domestic and commercial users
( 2003-09-18 14:20) (China Daily)

Even though the State Electricity Regulatory Commission has played down the impact of power outages, which have been rare since 1996, public concerns about stable energy supply remain, especially after the major blackout that swept the United States and Canada last month.

Nineteen provinces and regions have suffered from power shortages this year, temporarily having to switch off supply from time to time to prevent the grid from collapsing.

The places include South China's Guangdong, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces; North China's Shanxi and Hebei provinces and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region; and East China's Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai.

Even areas which used to be electricity surplus, including Northwestern China's Gansu, Qinghai, and Ninxia Hui Autonomous Region and Central China's Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, had a hard time.

The shortfall reached a climax in July and August when air-conditioners started to gobble up huge amounts of power.

Supply in north, east and central China grids fall short of 5-7 per cent at peak times, statistics suggest.

According to State Grid Corp, the country's largest electricity transmission company, generating capacity is expected to increase by a little less than 5 per cent by the year end to 370 million kilowatts this year, while the consumption growth is set to exceed 10 per cent.

Residents have had to suffer blackouts during some hours so that supply could be guaranteed for industrial production; while commercial users shifted working hours to the night to cut down peak-hour consumption.

In the first seven months, there were more than 96,000 power cuts in 12 electricity-deficient provinces and regions, according to latest statistics from the commission; with July bearing the brunt.

The severest situations were in East China, including booming Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai, and Central China, such as Hunan and Anhui provinces.

Zhejiang Province, for instance, has seen supply disruptions surging 15 times to 67,000 in the January-July period compared to the same period of last year. In July, the outages rocketed by almost 40 times year-on-year to nearly 54,000.

"Usually, the power grid should have a 10 per cent power reserve margin, but in areas such as Shanghai and Zhejiang Province, the reserve is zero," said Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst with Merrill Lynch.

August was even worse as the scorching heat led to a surge in air-conditioner usage, although no official figure is available.

Government officials attribute the shortfall mainly to underestimation of demand in previous years which, in turn, led to the construction of new generators falling behind since 2000. Last year, generating capacity increased by 4.3 per cent, 7.2 percentage points lower than demand growth, according to a report from the China Power Industry Association.

The robust economic growth this year has also pushed the electricity consumption high.

Three provinces and regions - East China's Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and West China's Ninxia Hui Autonomous Region, have seen usage soar by over 20 per cent in the first half of the year.

Adding to the woes is the rare drought since winter, which depleted water level of reservoirs and, in turn, forced hydropower plants to cut down generation.

Generation of hydropower in Fujian and Hunan provinces, which accounts for half of the total electricity supply, has almost been paralyzed.

The commission also blamed the shortage on rampant expansion of heavy-electricity-consuming industries, such as steel, aluminium, petrochemical and construction.

Officials say the supply shortfall is expected to be greatly eased from later this month as the air-conditioner usage falls with lower temperatures.

According to the commission, air-conditioners contribute to at least 15 per cent of the load on the power grid during peak consumption periods.

Meanwhile, with the autumn bringing rainfall, some hydropower generators, which halted operations due to insufficient water supply, will resume output, the officials said.

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