China Rations Power Use Amid Drought

A long-standing drought is drying up the Yangtze River and surrounding reservoirs. From the New York Times:

As of Sunday, 4 medium-size reservoirs and 1,388 small reservoirs in Hubei had dropped below the allowable discharge levels for irrigation, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the director of the reservoir management office for the Hubei Provincial Water Resources Department. One-fourth of all small reservoirs had what officials called “dead water” remaining, which could be pumped for use only in an emergency.

The drought adds to concerns over the effect that a gargantuan water-diversion project will have on the central provinces of China. The project, called the South-North Water Diversion, is supposed to move water from the Yangtze and its tributaries north to Beijing along a canal, and to Tianjin along an eastern route.

Both routes are supposed to be fully operational within the next couple of years. Criticism of the project has become widespread, and many people along the Yangtze and in the south say precious water resources should not be sent north, where there has been a chronic water shortage.

The water shortage is also affecting energy output as hydropower projects are slowing production. From the Time blog:

Authorities are warning that manufacturers in booming industrial regions west of Shanghai may face even tighter power rationing as demand surges in the peak summer months as electricity generators curb output due to rising costs for coal and oil. (Watch “America Wants in on China’s Clean Energy Biz.”)

Though summer rains may eventually relieve the drought, with even the powerful Yangtze river running too low for shipping in some stretches, China appears to be hitting limits to its growth in a resource scarce-environment. The power crunch comes at time when worries over inflation make rising energy costs and crop failures less welcome than ever.

The industry group China Electricity Council has estimated a power shortfall of 30 million kilowatts in the summer. That is only 3 percent of China’s generating capacity, but the shortages are concentrated in key manufacturing regions such as Zhejiang and Jiangsu, near Shanghai.

May 17, 2011 12:20 PM
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