In 2019, about 60 per cent of China’s coal used in electricity generation came from Australia. China reportedly uses coal to meet 70 per cent of its energy needs and therefore it emits more carbon dioxide than the United States and the European Union combined.
After the ban on coal imports from Australia, coal imports from Indonesia, Russia and South Africa have been rising sharply.
Residents in Changsha provincial capital have expressed frustration and the posts on Weibo showed pictures of chaotic conditions like elevators stopping in blacked-out office buildings. In Yiwu, local authorities have even clamped on the limit of operations in each company, according to reports.
Zhao Chenxin, Secretary-General, China Electricity Commission claimed that electricity supply was largely stable without affecting household electricity consumption. Hang Jianhua, Director, China’s National Energy Administration claimed that enhancing energy security would be a priority in China’s five-year energy plan.
The power shortage in the winter can make the situation worse. The renewed emergence of factory activities can also be considered another reason for power woes.
Tension between Australia and China sharpened after criticism from the Australian authorities of how China handled the Coronavirus outbreak. Coastal areas of China depend on imported coal, including from Australia.
In Yiwu, in eastern China, local authorities allegedly turned off street lights for several days and directed factories to operate on a part-time schedule. In Wenzhou, a coastal city government instructed the companies not to heat their offices till the temperatures are close to freezing. In Hunan province, workers climbed dozens of flights of stairs after elevators were shut down, according to reports.
The issue of coal shortage has gained necessary momentum as the state-owned news media recently stated that buyers were lining up in trucks at the gates of coal mines, struggling for access as the demand for coal hit record level in the mining hub of Henan province. Amidst the severe cold, Chinese officials reminded the citizens of their country’s ambitious environmental goals and reassured them of plenty of energy.
In December officials in Hunan warned that the demand would outstrip the supply and the shortage would last well into spring. The restrictions that have been imposed by the Government include shutting off the lighting on building facades and billboards, power off on weekends and banning of electric stoves/ovens.
The restrictions have also been varied with different parameters in different parts of the country. For example, in Jiangxi province restrictions on electricity use were imposed only for peak hours. The cafeterias of government agencies, business and financial institutions also have been forbidden from turning on heating. There could be potential longer-term problems that China will be facing in its efforts to become self-sufficient in the energy sector. In May 2020, China’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, cement making and other industrial uses were actually 4 per cent higher than the previous year.