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    Residents Face Rolling Blackouts as Southwest China Bakes

    The Sichuan government says extreme temperatures and drought have made it difficult to match the electricity supply and demand.

    China’s worst heat wave in the past 61 years is threatening the electricity supply for millions of people in the country’s southwest, despite efforts to ensure residential power supply by minimizing industrial production.

    Residents in the city of Dazhou, home to some 5.4 million people in Sichuan province, told Sixth Tone they had been facing rolling blackouts since the past week, making them unable to use electric fans and air conditioners amid the scorching summer heat. The highest daily temperature in the city exceeded 40 degrees Celsius last week.

    Pang Jiaying, a 19-year-old undergraduate student in Dazhou, said her 74-year-old grandmother had suffered from heat stroke multiple times since the daily power cuts started.

    “We live on the 10th floor, so it is very inconvenient for my grandmother to go downstairs without an elevator and find a cooler place outside,” Pang told Sixth Tone. “She just resorted to using a handmade fan. She would vomit, get diarrhea, feel dizzy, and had to take medicine.”

    On Tuesday, the state-run electricity company in Dazhou warned residents that there had been a large power shortage due to extreme high temperatures and the strain on the province’s electricity supply since Aug. 7. The power provider said that they would cut the supply for households and industries to ease supply pressure.

    Luo Linjia, another Dazhou resident, said the blackouts that initially lasted for an hour when they started on Aug. 15 had now extended to up to eight hours daily.

    “There was basically no electricity supply during the daytime hours of the past two days,” said Luo, who spent most of her time in the air conditioned city library that was packed with people. “It’s hard to get through it at home. I was awakened by the heat every morning.”

    The heat wave gripping large parts of China has posed a severe threat to electricity supply in Sichuan. Less than average rainfall, falling water levels in the rivers, and drought have jeopardized the province’s hydropower generation accounting for 80% of its electricity supply.

    On Sunday, Sichuan issued its highest energy emergency response under a four-tier system introduced in January for the first time. It stipulates that the provincial government can ask the State Council for support if necessary and the state power generator should coordinate external resources to ensure supply when the emergency power supply cannot be met.

    “Since July, we have faced a severe situation of record high temperatures, record low rainfall, and a record high demand for electricity,” local authorities said in the notice. “The high temperature disaster and drought have led to the extremely prominent tension between electricity supply and demand.”

    Local officials said on Saturday that the demand for power in Sichuan rose by 25% year-on-year, while the province’s hydropower generation capacity fell by more than half as the waterflow into the hydropower reservoirs dropped.

    The National Meteorological Center issued a red alert for high temperatures — the highest level — on Monday for the 11th consecutive day in some parts of the country. Temperatures in the eastern part of Sichuan and its neighboring city Chongqing were expected to reach over 40 degrees Celsius.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: A shopping mall endures power crunch in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Aug. 19, 2022. VCG)