Time to abolish the great divide for central heating

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-23 19:03:01

Central heating in China officially started on November 15, bringing warmth and comfort to millions of homes in northern China. It will last until March. Although Shanghai is experiencing an exceptionally warm autumn, with the high temperature hitting 22 C Sunday, it is usually the time of the year when people in southern China start to gripe that there is no central heating in their homes.

According to China's official heating policy, there is central heating north of the Huaihe River, which is between 32 and 34 degrees north of the equator. Anyone living south of this line, including those living in Shanghai, doesn't get central heating.

From the government's point of view, there are difficulties in providing central heating in southern China. For one, building a citywide central heating system in every city village and town in southern China requires lots of detailed planning and comes at a great cost. Jiang Yi, a building energy research expert at Tsinghua University, said the country would need to burn an extra 50 million tons of coal each year for the government to provide central heating to all urban residents in the south, the Beijing News reported.

Some people have argued that heating is not a necessity in cities like Shanghai because it doesn't get as cold as in the north, where temperatures can fall to -20 C to -30 C in winter.

These difficulties are hard to ignore, but are hardly insurmountable. China's heating policy started almost 60 years ago at a time when there was a need to optimize the use of resources. However, China has since developed into the world's second largest economy and its people's standard of living has drastically improved since the time the policy was created.

It is time for the government to rethink the heating policy. It no longer makes sense to use geography as a divide. Two years ago, a member of China's top government advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, proposed pushing the division line further south.

People in the south think it is unfair that there is no central heating at homes. While it's true that it doesn't get nearly as cold as it does in the north, you can feel much colder in the south at the same temperature because it is more humid. It is also difficult to take a shower in winter in the south, even in bathrooms with heat lamps.

Actually, not providing central heating in the south does not help conserve resources. Large-scale blackouts have been reported in some southern cities in the past because too many people were using electric heaters at the same time in winter. Using electric heaters also double the electricity bill compared with the heating fees of the north.

Some experts such as Pan Yiqun from the Institute of Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning and Gas Engineering at Shanghai's Tongji University, called for using the temperature to determine whether central heating should be provided.

Also there can be more varieties in what kind of heating should be used in southern China instead of the citywide systems used in the north. For example, each building could decide to use its own heating system. In fact, some new residential buildings in Shanghai already have their own heating systems. And natural gas is the preferred form of energy in providing heat while the government offers some subsidy to every household.

Too much time has been spent on talking about whether there should be heating in the south. The government should start doing something right away so that people in southern China can have a warm winter as well.

Posted in: Society, TwoCents

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