Chinese officials have ordered almost all factories in Sichuan to shut down for six days as the country scrambles to cope with a record 64-day heatwave that’s the worst since 1961.
Officials in the western province, which is a key manufacturing base for companies involved in the production of solar panels and semiconductors, also ordered power rationing at homes, offices and malls in 19 of Sichuan’s 21 cities on Wednesday.
Major companies such Apple supplier Foxconn and Intel are among those affected, as is Tongwei, the world’s largest supplier of polysilicon, which has been forced to halt output because power consumption has soared and authorities need to ensure adequate supply for the public.
Sichuan is a hub for mining, so the power cuts could affect prices of lithium (used in electric vehicle batteries), zinc, and aluminium. Tianqi Lithium and Sichuan Yahua Industrial Group both operate plants in the province.
Aluminium producer Henan Zhongfu Industrial, chemicals maker Sichuan Guoguang Agrochemical, and fertiliser producers Sichuan Meifeng Chemical Industry and Sichuan Lutianhua all issued stock exchange statements to say they were suspending production this week.
Sichuan, which relies on hydro dams for 80% of its power, ordered producers of lithium, fertilisers and other metals to shut plants or curb output on Sunday.
Soaring temperatures and little rain this summer have reduced hydropower generation in the province of 83.75 million people, while also boosting demand for air conditioning.
Residential areas, offices and shopping malls in Dazhou, a city of 5.4 million people, were informed of rotating brownouts each lasting several hours throughout Wednesday, according to the official Wechat account of state-run Dazhou Power Group.
Residential brownouts are rare as China typically limits power to industries first to prioritize residential and commercial use in any power squeeze.
Government offices were asked to set air conditioners to no lower than 26 Celsius (79°F) and use more staircases instead of lifts, the provincial government-run Sichuan Daily said in front-page report on Wednesday.
Fountains, light shows and commercial activities during the night hours were also suspended, the paper said.
Three Gorges Dam Discharges Boosted
Meanwhile, the massive Three Gorges dam will ramp up water discharges by 500 million cubic metres over the next 10 days – to bolster efforts to counter the heatwave, officials announced on Tuesday.
Drastic measures, such as seeding clouds with iodine to induce rain and deploying relief funds, are being undertaken to get more water into the drought-hit Yangtze River basin, and develop new water sources as the heatwave ravages crops and livestock.
The Ministry of Water Resources said in a notice on Wednesday that drought throughout the Yangtze basin was “adversely affecting drinking water security of rural people and livestock, and the growth of crops”.
It urged regions to make accurate assessments of drought-affected areas and devise plans to maintain water supplies, including temporary water transfers, the development of new sources and the extension of pipe networks.
Some livestock from drought-hit areas had been temporarily relocated to other regions, the Ministry of Finance said earlier this week, adding that it would issue 300 million yuan (over $44 million) in disaster relief.
On Wednesday, central China’s Hubei province became the latest to announce an extensive weather modification programme, deploying planes to drop silver iodide rods into clouds to induce rainfall.
Officials in other regions by the Yangtze have also launched “cloud seeding” programmes, but with cloud cover too thin, operations in some drought-ravaged parts of the Yangtze basin have remained on standby.
China’s heatwave has lasted 64 days, making it the longest since full records began in 1961, state media said on Wednesday, citing data from the National Climate Centre. The number of weather stations recording temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) and above has reached 262, also the highest. Eight have hit 44C.
Persistently high temperatures would continue in the Sichuan Basin and large parts of central China until August 26, according to forecasts.
A “special case” of high pressure from the West Pacific subtropical high, stretching across much of Asia, is likely to be the cause of the extreme heat, said Cai Wenju, a climate researcher with CSIRO, Australia’s national scientific research institute.
Analysts said if the heatwave persists the power crunch could spill over to eastern provinces like Zhejiang and Jiangsu, which have relied partly on buying electricity from Sichuan.
- By Jim Pollard, with Reuters