Continuous heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have exacerbated power gaps in many parts of China and added to the damage caused by snowstorms since the middle of the month, authorities said on Tuesday.
The State Electricity Regulatory Commission said the country's power shortage has reached 69.63 million kW, forcing 13 provinces and municipalities, including Hubei, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Yunnan and Guangdong, to ration supplies.
Coal reserves are also down more than 40 percent year-on-year, at 17.73 million tons, as of Sunday, which equates to just eight days' supply for the country's power plants, the Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.
Commission chairman You Quan said in addition to the supply shortage, the increased use of heaters and disruptions to the transportation of coal have widened the power gap.
To help maintain reserves at major power plants, the Ministry of Railways said yesterday it will allocate resources for coal transportation, while at the same time adding hundreds of trains to cope with the Spring Festival exodus.
Shanghai is reportedly buying electricity from other provinces and adjusting power consumption for a peak in usage as the mercury drops.
After weeks of foggy and wet weather, temperatures in the city will drop to -3 C in suburban areas and zero downtown, the Shanghai meteorological bureau forecast.
On Tuesday morning, Shanghai recorded one of its heaviest power loads in winter, 18 million kW.
"It will be more than that today," Wang Changxing, an official with the Shanghai Municipal Electric Power Company, told China Daily yesterday.
"That's almost the city's maximum supply. Shanghai will try to buy more power from other provinces, but at this moment, most places in central and east China are facing a similar shortage.
"In the event of an emergency, major power consuming companies will be asked to shift or limit their working hours."
The highest load appears between 10 and 11 am when office buildings turn on their heating.
"Companies that consume large amounts of power will be asked to avoid such consumption during this period," Wang said.
Since Jan 10, heavy snowfall has affected some 25 million people and caused losses of 3.11 billion yuan ($430 million) in nine provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
Nearly 22,000 houses have been felled by the snow, 155,000 people have been evacuated and 1.04 million hectares of farmland have been damaged, the ministry said yesterday on its website.
In Shaanxi province, 940 people have been injured in the past three days because of the heavy snow. Also, 180,000 people have had their drinking water supplies disrupted due to burst pipes, and more than 5,100 chickens have died as a result of coops collapsing.
As of Tuesday, the unusually heavy snowfall has claimed at least 17 lives and caused widespread traffic and power disruption, Xinhua reported.
The Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Civil Affairs have allocated 1.75 billion yuan to help disaster-hit areas.
The National Meteorological Center forecast yesterday that a new round of snowstorms is expected to hit parts of the country tomorrow.
Chen Lijuan, from the National Climate Center, said the extreme conditions had been influenced by the La Nina weather phenomenon, which refers to the extensive cooling in areas of the Pacific Ocean.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency)