China's Busiest Manufacturing Areas Ordered to Stop Production Amid National Power Cuts

Factories in China's busiest manufacturing areas were ordered to halt production for up to a week amid national power cuts to meet official conservation targets.

The halt in production has prompted some concern that there will be global supply shortages for smartphones and other goods as the holiday season approaches.

The Chinese government is attempting to cut back power consumption, as the country's rate is almost double its usual amount. The ruling Communist Party is trying to reduce energy intensity, or the amount of energy used per unit of economic output, to meet goals in combatting climate change.

Urban neighborhoods have also been facing power outages to meet the conservation goals, and residents have pleaded on social media for the government to solve the problem.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

China National Power Cuts
Some factories have halted manufacturing and urban areas have faced blackouts as China has enforced nationwide power cuts to meet energy goals. This picture taken on September 27, 2021 shows residential buildings in Shanghai. Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

People in northeastern China ate breakfast by the light of smartphones and shopkeepers turned on generators as much of the country enforced power cuts Wednesday.

News reports blame high coal prices they say make power companies reluctant to meet booming demand, while economists say the real motive is political: Officials are under pressure to curtail energy use to meet official targets.

In Shenyang, the northeast's most populous city, restaurant owner Li Yufeng used a battery from an electric bicycle to run a pot for noodles after seeing a notice power would be switched off at 7:30 a.m. Li said he started work two hours early, at 6 a.m., to prepare chicken, sauces and other dishes.

"There are some impacts, but not a big impact," Li said as customers ate by smartphone lights.

The power cuts come as global leaders prepare to attend a U.N. environmental conference by video link on October 12-13 in the southwestern city of Kunming. That increases pressure on President Xi Jinping's government, as the meeting's host, to show it is sticking to emissions and energy efficiency targets.

The cuts are "largely driven by energy consumption control measures, with power shortages affecting another few provinces," Lara Dong of IHS Markit said in an email.

"This is in line with China's decarbonization ambitions," she said.

The Cabinet's planning agency warned in August that 20 regions had exceeded energy use and pollution targets after manufacturing rebounded from the pandemic. The government has ambitious plans to make the economy cleaner and more energy-efficient, so failing to meet those targets can be a career-ending blunder.

The power cuts "could be more disruptive than previous shortages," Bank of America said in a report. Due to shortages in some areas, it said, "a relaxation of the government's energy consumption goals may not immediately alleviate the power crunch."

China is one of the world's biggest emitters of climate-changing industrial gases and consumes more energy per unit of economic output than developed countries. Given its huge population, on a per capita basis, it ranks much lower.

China also is preparing for the Winter Olympics in the capital, Beijing, and the nearby city of Shijiazhuang in February, a period when it will want clear blue skies.

Officials in Jiangsu province, a manufacturing hub northwest of Shanghai, told state media some cities there have used up 90 percent of this year's quota for power use. The officials of the provincial planning agency were cited as saying individual city governments had to decide how to meet their targets.

The government of Guangdong province, China's biggest manufacturing center, has cited both official energy use limits and low water levels in hydropower reservoirs that provide a big share of its electricity.

In Liaoning province, where Shenyang is the capital, the government said in a statement Sunday that power demand hit a record high in the first eight months of the year. It said Liaoning has suffered shortages since then due to a decline in wind power and other sources.

The government of neighboring Jilin province blamed a shortage of coal. It said in a statement Monday its governor would visit miners in nearby Inner Mongolia to line up additional supplies.

Some advance warnings of power cuts to residents in Shenyang and other cities cited a need to ration power but didn't say why.

Li, the noodle restaurant owner, showed a reporter a notice circulated on social media that said power would be out in his neighborhood from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Shopkeeper Yang Chang had a generator running on the sidewalk to keep freezers full of meat cold.

"As long as there is electricity we can sell things, unlike restaurants that need water," said Yang. Yang didn't know or care what the reason for the power outage was but said, "it's understandable."

"I was born in the '90s. When I was little, electricity wasn't stable," said Yang. "Although we are having difficulties, the government will find a solution."

China Power Cuts
People ate breakfast by flashlight and shopkeepers used portable generators Wednesday as power cuts imposed to meet official conservation goals disrupted manufacturing and daily life. A man uses his smartphone flashlight to light up his bowl of noodles as he eats his breakfast at a restaurant during a blackout in Shenyang in northeastern China's Liaoning Province, Wednesday, September 29, 2021. Olivia Zhang/AP Photo