China’s government campaign to move the coal-fired heating system through millions of homes to less polluting heating and wind help has made Beijing sky win the rare shade of blue but has generated a national energy crisis that threatens to affect the market of natural gas.
Airborne particle levels in Beijing in November were 54% lower than in the same month in 2016. Blue skies were dominant during the period, although heating systems were normally switched on from day 15, which makes the shades of gray dominate the horizon of the country’s capital.
The change, however, has generated problems. Many cities have gone unheated even with temperatures below zero.
The reason was an inadequate completion of the national pollution control program, which established that 5.5 million families in the north of the country would no longer use coal between 2013 and 2017 to use systems powered by natural gas or electricity.
As the campaign ended this winter, many local governments tried to meet last-minute goals to avoid punishment. In this way, works were done quickly, causing gas supply problems in many homes.
“In my house, we could only use the gas every other day, and on the days when we were allowed to turn on the system, we could only turn on the heating for a few hours at night,” Efe Lu Yanfeng, a teacher in the small town of Dancheng.
The problem also sparked family discussions, according to Lu. “My grandmother felt that the lack of heating was my mother’s fault, that she did not want to turn on the system to save money,” he said.
For her, the authorities did not plan the move well, a reminder of the Great Leap Forward, when officials from across China, rushing to meet steelmaking targets, left agriculture aside. The lack of food has killed millions of people across the country.
Of the 5.5 million families that switched the heating system, 4 million made the switch this winter, which shows the delay in implementing the national program, which started four years ago.
The policy not only had effects among the residents of northern China but also on the world market for natural gas, which saw an unexpected 40% increase in imports of the country in 2017.
Exported gas prices, analysts say, have nearly doubled this year, surpassing $ 10 per BTU. If it were not for China, the forecast was for a reduction in global demand and falling prices.
Authorities in China have acknowledged that 426,000 families in 30 cities suffered from gas supply problems during the winter. Therefore, the use of coal was authorized.
In the last days of December, because of the temporary return to coal, the air pollution rates rose again, albeit at levels lower than those recorded in previous years.
In a China where fighting pollution has become a national priority, many citizens in the winter seem doomed to having to choose between smoging the cities or going cold, at least in this early transition of systems.
Ma Zhiquin, a 60-year-old housewife, and mother of Lu prefer clean air, despite being irritated by the cold in the winter.
“So children get sick less often, and the cold can always get over with more clothes,” he said.