Blackouts in China as heatwave pushes electricity usage to record levels

A long-running heatwave in China has pushed electricity usage to record levels in some areas and led to blackouts, with warnings that the high temperatures are expected to continue for at least another week.

More than 300 cities were forecast to reach temperatures above 35C on Tuesday. China Southern Power Grid Company said Monday’s usage had surpassed last year’s peak load by 3%. The Guangdong province power grid also hit a record high, reaching 142m kilowatts, an increase of 4.89% over last year’s peak load. Blackouts were reported in the provincial capital, Guangzhou, which has recorded a full week of maximum temperatures above 37C, including highs of 40C on Sunday and Monday.

Yang Lin, the manager of the company’s dispatching office, said once temperatures in Guangzhou surpassed 35C, every extra degree meant a corresponding load increase of 3m-5m kilowatts.

The company said it was inspecting equipment to avoid overheating and malfunction, and pledged to maintain power supply. In recent years there have been widespread blackouts that have caused havoc across China – blamed on extreme temperatures, rising demand for electricity and shortages in coal, which is still the main source of China’s power.

China is among several countries to have moved back towards a coal-focused energy supply, despite ambitious emissions reduction pledges, amid a global crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict. On Friday the ministry of emergency management warned safe operation of the power grid faced “severe tests”.

Last week China’s electricity council reported national power consumption had increased 2.9% year-on-year in the first half of 2022. In June there was a year-on-year increase of 4.7%, which the council attributed to an easing of the pandemic, high temperatures and the impact of economic stabilisation policies.

On Monday, 21 red warnings and 140 orange warnings were issued for high temperatures, predominately across the south-east and in the far west, including Xinjiang. The national meteorological agency warned on Tuesday the high temperatures would continue for about 10 days mostly in the south-east, with temperatures above 40C forecast for Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan. It also forecast “significant” rainfall in some central and western regions.

China has reported above normal heat since June amid global heatwaves that meteorologists say are linked to human-induced climate change. State media reported the current heatwave was expected to be worse than one earlier this month. More than a dozen local temperature records were broken on Sunday alone. Xinjiang’s heatwaves have been particularly long and widespread, Chen Chunyan, the chief expert at the Xinjiang meteorological observatory, told state media.

“Continued high temperature has accelerated glacial melting in mountainous areas and caused natural disasters such as flash floods, mudslides and landslides in many places,” Chen said.