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China is suffering from its worst blackouts in a decade.

A blackout in Changsha, Hunan province, as a result of coal shortage. Image Credit: Weibo

Several provinces in China are suffering from that worst blackouts in a decade. This is due to a coal shortage which is forcing a number of provinces to impose restrictions on power usage. The coal shortage is being blamed on the increased power demand due to an increased industrial activity post-pandemic and a very harsh winter. It may have been worsened due to a coal import ban on Australian coal, due to a trade war between the two countries.

Damage caused by heavy snow in Central China. Image Credit: Getty Images

Relations between China and Australia have worsened when the Prime Minister of Australia ordered an independent inquiry into the spread of COVID-19 from the source of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, back in April. This prompted the Chinese president, Xi Jinping to impose trade sanctions on Australian products which includes barley, beef and tinder. Back in October 13, Chinese custom officials were informing state-owned steelmakers to stop using Australian coal, leaving the Australian coal ships stranded off the coast. In November 3, China unofficially banned Australian sugar, red wine, barley, lobster, copper and coal. China is also trying to follow the Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s pledge last September on achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

Around 53 Australian coal ships have been stranded off the coast of China for more than four weeks, while other countries’s coal ships were allowed in. The coal import ban on Australian coal is still in place despite the power outages. Power plants are failing due to the coal shortage and Chinese coal price has increased from $100 last month to $153 on December 15. A director at China Huadian Corporation said,

The import curb is enough to change the industry landscape. Many local power plants depend on Australian coal due to its higher efficiency and now they are having trouble finding an alternative.

Director at China Huadian Corporation

Coal carrying ships in the Coral sea back in January 2020 when they were allowed to unload. Image Credit: Getty Images.

Australian coal make up around 25% of China’s thermal coal imports according to Shanxi-based China Coal Big Data Centre. China has refused the idea that China’s coal shortage is due to a ban on Australian coal. China is banning coal imports from Australia due to higher domestic prices, but analysts believe that given the current situation in several Chinese provinces, any incoming coal should be accepted. Power consumption in China has increased by 9% compared to 2019. According to the Post, China used 6,677.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWH) of electricity from January to November of this year. It is more than the combined total power usage of 2017 and 2018. Also, industrial demand increased by 10% in November.

Power cuts were reported in Zhejiang province, which is considered to be an economic powerhouse in East China. There were also power cuts in the provinces of Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi and Guangdong. Hundreds of millions of people that live in these provinces have to make huge sacrifices to limit their power usage, as they have been forced to change their way of life. In the cities of Wenzhou and Yiwu in Zhejiang province, companies have been forced by the government to scale back production, despite knowing that it will have a severe effect on the finances of the companies. High-rise apartments in several provinces were forced to stop using elevators. Workers and citizens were forced to walk up to 20 flights of stairs to get to their homes or offices. Millions of Chinese people were also told to not use heaters unless the outside temperature falls below 3°C. It has also been reported that several workers in factories were shivering during their work. Guangdong gets around quarter of its power from the Three Gorges Dam, and a half from coal.

Darkness in Guangzhou after a power outage on December 21, 2020. Image Credit: Weibo

Complete darkness in Guangzhou city, Guangdong Province, after a power outage. Image Credit: Twitter CN Wire@Sino_market.

All streetlights and billboards have been switched off in the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, and will remain so until the end of this year. Factories in Yiwu were forced to cut working hours by around 80%, until the end of this year. Several rail companies have been ordered by the government to prioritize the transportation of coal. Several custom officials have also stopped import quotas at several ports, for coal from other countries except Australia.

The National Development and Reform Commission state agency of China said that the province of Zheijiang is not suffering from any power outages despite the numerous reports of power cuts all around the province. But the state agency also said that power cuts were in line to ‘promote energy conservation and emission reduction.’ Local residents in Zhejiang did not aprove Chinese government’s need to turn off the street light and factory power in order to be in line with the reduction targets. One resident like a lot others expressed his frustration over the power outages on Weibo.

It’s already been difficult to do business this year, now government indicators are overwhelming the common people.

Unknown resident on Weibo

An official at Huaidan Corp. said,

We don’t expect the government to relax import control just because of the trouble it has caused . Politics come first.

Official at Huaidan Corp

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