(ORDO NEWS) — Lanterns were still lit on the Bund, one of the main roads in downtown Shanghai. But the decorative lights that illuminate the city’s skyline – blue, pink and red – were turned off for two days to cope with peak power demand.
The power cut introduced by the city was the first in Shanghai, China’s financial center. However, similar restrictions have been put in place across the country as cities, especially in the southwestern region, grapple with continued power shortages caused by a devastating drought this summer.
Sichuan province has issued a top-level emergency energy alert to address power shortages, the first time in the province’s history that the warning means residents will have priority in providing electricity.
Sichaun is known for its rich hydropower resources, which provide 80% of its electricity, and is a vital link in China’s vast West-to-East power transmission project.
However, the area has recorded record high temperatures not seen in the past 60 years. Water in the region’s rivers has dropped to historic lows, and hydroelectric power plants are producing only half the power they were generating at this time last year.
In Sichuan, power cuts have already been introduced at factories, and international companies are forced to stop production while coal-fired power plants operate at full capacity.
But even so, cities across Sichuan are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for electricity from the population, which is greatly affecting people’s daily lives.
In Dazhou, residents of a village complain that the power goes out for 6-7 hours every day for almost a week, causing many to flock to a nearby bridge in the evening to escape the sweltering summer heat.
Owners of private businesses have also been hit hard, as power supply in communities and shopping centers is limited.
In Chengdu, a restaurant owner complained to TikTok’s Chinese equivalent, Douyin, saying: “We’re having a really hard time in the food and beverage industry this year. We barely made it through Covid restrictions earlier this year, and now we’re facing power shortages.”
“We’ve been looking forward to July and August, which is usually our high season, but now it all seems like a pipe dream.”
Disruptions are being felt across the country, with inter-regional business activity and supply chains being hit differently. Prices for commodities such as silicon metal have risen due to power cuts, and worries are growing in Shanghai over a shortage of auto parts for companies such as the Shanghai Automotive Corporation and Tesla.
Meanwhile, southwest China’s cities of Chongqing, Luzhou in Sichuan and Chishui in Guizhou are also fighting wildfires caused by lack of rain and intense heat.
In Chongqing alone, at least five wildfires were reported from Aug. 18 to 21 in areas such as Jiangjin, Dazu, Tongliang, Ba’an and Nanchuan, adding more trouble to an already tense government.
The drought has also created problems for farmers, leaving some 200,000 farm animals in Sichuan short of drinking water.
About 433,000 hectares (1,069,966 acres) of crops have been affected by water shortages, and direct economic losses amounted to 3.5 billion yuan, according to figures released by the Sichuan emergency management authorities.
Like China, countries in the northern hemisphere are experiencing unprecedented heat and drought this year, once again reminding the world of the harsh reality of climate change.
In the wake of the current crisis, there are calls on Chinese social media for greater awareness of this huge global problem. On Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, one hashtag “Help the Earth cool down by 1°C” initiated by the Chinese giant BYD has gained more than 120 million views.
In its description, the company urges the public to pay more attention to global warming. The hashtag has since been shared by state media, including The People’s Daily and the Xinhua news agency.
Others warn that extreme weather is likely to remain commonplace for the foreseeable future and call for a concerted effort across industries to deal effectively with it.
“All over the world, extreme weather with high and even ultra-high temperatures is likely to recur frequently in the next decade or for a longer period of time in the future.
Based on the situation this year, I don’t think people have fully understood how big an impact such weather can have on our production activities and our lives.” Xu Xiaofeng, former deputy director of the China Meteorological Administration, said in an interview with National Business Daily.
“Only by strengthening coordination across industries and deepening our knowledge of climate change can we develop effective measures to combat it.”
However, given that Sichuan has set an example of using coal-fired power plants as an immediate solution to the current energy crisis, it remains unclear how China can strike a balance between ensuring normal use of energy and achieving the goal of carbon neutrality by 2060.
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