What caused China's power crisis and when will it end?

6 min read
Sudden blackouts have highlighted vulnerabilities in China's power sector and economy: overreliance on coal and overemphasis on growth, which coincided with rising coal prices this year to create a nationwide energy shortage.
Classroom lights were off at Baita Elementary School. The screen at the front gate usually displaying announcements had gone dark too. Children were playing sports outside instead of learning, and mothers weren't sure when the energy crisis gripping China would end.

"We've never had power cuts like this in Shenyang," said one mother, wearing a long flowery skirt and permed hair. She declined to give her name. Blackouts for an hour or two were annoying, if tolerable, but now entire neighborhoods in her city were losing electricity for daylong stretches.

The woman was most worried about her elderly parents living in an apartment building 33 floors high. When the electricity went out, so did the water. She imagined them huddled in the dark, the elevators broken, their phones dead. She said people shouldn't "have to live like this in modern times. At least the government should warn us before it happens."

China's nationwide power crunch has caused drastic electricity cuts. Factories across the country have shifted to reduced schedules or been asked to halt operations, slowing a supply chain already strained by shipping blockages due to coronavirus outbreaks. The crisis had been building through the summer but caught public attention last week when China's northeastern provinces made sudden electricity cuts to residential areas.


The shortages come at a time when China's leaders are facing complaints from a widening middle class worried about housing, education and prospects for the future. Those worries were underscored in recent weeks by news that one of the country's largest property developers, Evergrande, was $300 billion in debt and facing potential collapse. Analysts say such troubles are signs of deep-set problems in China's slowing economy.

Employees work on a high-voltage transmission tower in Yichun in China's central Jiangxi province on Sept. 28. (AFP/Getty Images)

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