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Historic Drought in China’s Sichuan Threatens Hydropower Supplies, Sparking Energy Rationing

by Martina Igini Asia Aug 18th 20222 mins
Historic Drought in China’s Sichuan Threatens Hydropower Supplies, Sparking Energy Rationing

The persistent drought has sparked widespread blackouts in Sichuan, threatening the province’s hydroelectric power generation and forcing local authorities to order power cuts to homes, businesses, and factories.

China is dealing with its longest heatwave since full records began in 1961. For more than two months, record-high temperatures have been recorded in Southern China and are forecast to continue at least until 26 August. Meanwhile, rainfall in the area is about two-thirds lower than August averages.

On Wednesday, local authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan ordered power rationing to homes, offices, and shopping malls. The order came shortly after local manufacturers of energy-intensive metals and fertilisers were ordered to curb operations. Automaker Toyota, Taiwan’s Foxconn, and Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology are just some of the businesses that shut down factories in response to the power crisis, the Financial Times reported. Government offices were also ordered to keep air conditioners above 26C (79F) and use stairs instead of lifts.

Sichuan, China’s third-largest province, switched to hydropower energy more than seven years ago and relies on this type of energy to generate 80% of its electricity. When nationwide power cuts resulted from a lack of coal last year, the province was mostly spared. However, the heatwave-sparked droughts are now crippling its hydroelectric power supply. 

The 5.4-million city Dazhou in northeast Sichuan has recently experienced widespread blackouts. In a statement, state-owned Dazhou Electric Power Group, the local power company, said the city would receive only intermittent supply. 

“Since August 7, due to multiple factors such as the extreme high temperatures and tight power supplies in the whole province, there has been a large power-supply gap in the local power grid of the main urban area of Dazhou,” the notice read. “The company has taken various measures such as ordering industrial users to stop production or to ration power, to alleviate the imbalance between power supply and demand.”

China’s longest heatwave on record has depleted the Yangtze River basin. Earlier this week, the river’s water levels hit a record low. But Asia’s longest river is not the only one bearing the brunt of this summer’s intense heat.

In Italy, the country’s longest river and one of its most important resources is drying up, affecting local agriculture and compromising its hydroelectric power generation capacity. Just a few days ago, German authorities said that the Rhine, Europe’s largest river and one of its main arteries for commerce, is set to become virtually impassable. Meanwhile, the US is dealing with unprecedented water shortages in the Colorado River Basin, the country’s largest reservoirs and one of the primary sources of water supply in the American Southwest.

You might also like: China to Increase Coal Production Amid Heatwave-sparked Surge in Electricity Demand


About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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