China's Power Outages May Be Caused By Environmental Factors and Coal Shortages

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Oct. 7 2021, Published 11:15 a.m. ET

Beijing, China
Source: Getty Images

The last year has been incredibly tough for many of China's metropolitan areas — extreme weather has caused devastating floods in Zhengzhou, while power outages have plagued many of China's major cities. Experts are attributing said outages to a myriad of environmental and political factors. Hopefully, the problems will be resolved as the weather starts getting colder, but unfortunately, it may not be a super quick fix.

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“If there’s a power cut in the winter then the heat stops too,” delivery driver, Fang Xuedong of Shenyang, a city northeast of Beijing, told The Guardian. “I have a kid and an elderly person at home, if there’s no heat then that’s a problem.”

China Power Outages
Source: Getty Images
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Why is China experiencing so many power outages?

Over the last year, China has experienced continuous power outages, and several factors may be to blame. According to CNBC, extreme weather has been at the forefront of these blackouts — you may recall back in July, when the city of Zhengzhou was slammed by rainstorms that caused fatal floods. Many other cities nationwide have also experienced devastating floods, as well as extremely high temperatures, which both often tend to contribute to blackouts and power outages.

Another possible contributor is China's ban on Australian coal. According to Reuters, Australia was once China's largest exporter of coal, but over the course of the last year, trading tensions between the two countries skyrocketed, after the Australian government allegedly questioned China's management of the COVID-19 pandemic. China ultimately turned to other countries for the non-renewable resource, but still faced a shortage, which is also the cause of recent severe economic strain.

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However, some say the outages may be somewhat attributed to the country's quest to lower its impact. According to Al Jazeera, the government, especially President Xi Jinping, has been extremely dedicated to meeting the energy consumption target. They hope to hit peak emissions before 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2060. Although this may not be the cause of the problem, we hope China is continuing to work to meet its energy consumption goals.

China Energy Consumption
Source: Getty Images

A general view of the works' bicycles parking area covered with solar panels outside the factory of Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, also known as Yingli Solar, on June 20, 2011 in Baoding city of Hebei Province, China. According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China overtook America as the world' s largest energy consumer in 2010. New energy industries are becoming even more important than in the past.

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What is China doing to resolve the power issues?

With winter coming up, it's imperative that China resolves the issue of the ongoing blackouts, but unfortunately, the resolution may be at the cost of the environment. According to The BBC, The China Electricity Council has announced that coal-fired power companies will “expand their procurement channels at any cost” to guarantee consistent electricity and heat in time for winter. That said, this may result in a huge sustainability setback for them.

“This power shortage could potentially have a negative impact on China’s environmental and climate ambitions,” Greenpeace Beijing's senior climate and energy policy officer, Li Shuo, told TIME. “So, it’s very important to set the record straight that it’s primarily a supply and demand problem regarding coal.”

If China uses this as an opportunity to speed up its transition to renewable sources of energy, that would be excellent, but based on the statement from The China Electricity Council, it seems as though this may not be the case — we're hoping for the best.

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