Thermal power plants in Sichuan firing on all cylinders to combat drought-induced power shortage
Published: Aug 23, 2022 12:08 PM Updated: Aug 23, 2022 10:04 PM
Thermal power plant in Mianyang, Southwest China's Sichuan Province Photo: VCG
Thermal power plant in Mianyang, Southwest China's Sichuan Province Photo: VCG

Amid heat waves in Southwest China's Sichuan Province that have caused an ongoing energy shortage, forcing the province to curb industrial power use for more than one week, Sichuan's coal-fired plants have been firing on all cylinders and generating power over designed capacity, as a national effort to combat a rare drought goes into full play. 

A total of 67 thermal power plants in Sichuan entered full operation with 12.75 million kilowatts of capacity on Monday, contributing about 25 percent of the daily load of the local power grid, in order to address a power shortage caused by extreme drought in the province, the Sichuan Daily reported on Tuesday.

Sichuan's current hydropower output has fallen to 440 million kilowatt-hours (k/Wh), below the normal level of 900 million k/Wh, due to severe drought. Hydropower generation has decreased precipitously by more than 51 percent from normal levels, according to the Sichuan Daily.

The 67 thermal power plants, which accounted for less than 16 percent of the overall power generating capacity in the province, have entered emergency mode to fill the gap by producing electricity at 150 percent of their designed capacity.

Six power generators belonging to the Sichuan Guangan Power Generation Co, the largest thermal power plants in the province, have been operating at full capacity for 21 days since the beginning of August, generating 1.183 billion kWh of electricity, up 170 percent year-on-year.

Sichuan's capital city Chengdu's only large thermal power plant, which is operated by Jintang Power Generation Co under the state-owned China Energy Group, realized over 27 million k/Wh of daily electricity generation since July, double that of normal levels, a representative from the company told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Thermal power plants can provide stable electricity supply in almost any weather, and 60 percent of power generation capacity of China is made up by thermal power plants, an energy expert surnamed Lin told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"But the capacity of thermal power generators only accounts for about 20 percent in Sichuan, so their full operation might only be used to address emergencies," said Lin, noting that rain for hydropower stations is the most needed solution at present. 

Other provinces have also lent help. Power provider State Grid Corp of China said that it is sending electricity from a power transmission line linking Baoji in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province to Deyang in Sichuan, and another line from Longnan in Northwest China's Gansu Province is channeling power to Guangyuan in Sichuan. 

A total of eight power transmission lines under State Grid have been sending 132 million kWh of power to Sichuan on a daily basis in recent days. 

Thirteen localities from Beijing to Zhejiang have also sent 50 emergency power generation units to Chengdu.

Dispatching electricity from other provinces to Sichuan is a practicable approach to address current temporary power shortages, and State Grid has the capacity to carry out such a large effort, an industry insider told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The majority of hydropower generated in Sichuan has traditionally been sent to other provinces, which may exceed 100 billion kWh each year, and this power is supplied under commercial contracts.

"Electricity from other provinces may help Sichuan fill its provincial power gap, and it can also reduce the risks for violating commercial contracts," said the insider.

The Sichuan provincial government is coordinating coal supplies to ensure power generation.

Last week, Sichuan commenced its first national level coal reserve base in Guangan, which can supply 6 million tons a year, with the aim of providing some relief to the province.

State-owned energy conglomerate CHN Energy said on Thursday that its subsidiaries utilized multiple channels to transport 190,000 tons of coal to Sichuan and Chongqing from August 1-17, up 89.6 percent from the same period last year. Its coal-fired plants in Sichuan have generated 19 billion kWh of electricity year-to-date, up 6.4 billion kWh from the corresponding period last year.