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China dims lights in Chengdu subway to save power as heat soars

The rail system of southwestern city of Chengdu, home to about 21 million people, started operating on “power-saving” mode Wednesday, activating low-power lights and regulating temperatures in stations and train compartments, its operator said in a statement, without specifying how long the measures would last.

Photos circulated on social media showed commuters waiting for trains on dimly lit platforms and transiting through darkened stations — a sharp contrast to the bright fluorescent lighting and illuminated advertising typical of China’s public transport stations.

The energy-saving measures are among many being rolled out amid a power shortage caused by China’s fiercest regional heat wave in six decades.

Sizzling temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) have hit dozens of cities across parts of southwest, central and eastern China, and surging demand for air conditioning is putting pressure on the power grid.

The power crisis has been compounded by a drought, as depleted water levels in the Yangtze River, one of China’s most commercially important waterways, and connected water bodies, have reduced the amount of electricity produced at hydropower plants.

Top provincial officials warned Sichuan is facing the “most severe and extreme moment” in power supply, Sichuan Daily reported.

A commentary published by the outlet, the province’s official propaganda news arm, called for government offices not to set their air conditioning units any lower than 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 Fahrenheit) and to minimize their elevator use, advising those on lower floors to take the stairs.

It also urged sports and commercial venues to reduce lighting and the use of high-powered electric equipment, turn off fountains, and cut down on nighttime activities.

Factories shut down

In nearby Chongqing city, authorities ordered factories to suspend operations for seven days to conserve electricity, according to state media.

For one week from Wednesday, all factories in Chongqing should “leave power to the people,” a reference to ensuring sufficient electricity is available for residential use, according to state media outlet The Paper, which cited a Chongqing government notice.

The move followed a similar step in Sichuan, which is a key semiconductor and solar panel manufacturing location, as well as lithium mining hub. Authorities there ordered all factories to cease operations for six days this week to ease a power shortage in the region.

Amid concerns about the power shortage, Beijing deployed one its top officials, Vice Premier Han Zheng, to inspect China’s state grid corporation on Wednesday, where he emphasized the need to ensure energy supply to “prevent blackouts,” state media Xinhua News Agency reported.

“Efforts should be made to strengthen coordination across the country, secure the power supply for key regions, residents, the public service sector and key industries, and resolutely prevent power rationing,” Han said.

The heat wave is showing no immediate signs of abating, with China’s Meteorological Administration on Thursday issuing its highest heat warning, a red alert heat, to at least 237 cities and counties across the country. A red alert is activated when temperatures are forecast to exceed 40 degrees Celsius.

Another 432 cities and counties were issued the second-highest orange alert warning, where high temperatures were forecast of around 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit).

Climate change impact

Ground temperatures in China have been rising faster than the global average, government scientists said, and the latest heat wave has raised new concerns about the impacts of global warming.

Extreme weather conditions have become more frequent amid a human-induced climate crisis, driven by burning fossil fuels. Multiple countries across the Northern Hemisphere are dealing with soaring summer heat and fires.

Earlier this month, China’s National Climate Center said some 900 million people had been affected by heatwaves in the country since mid-June.

Heat has not been the only severe weather effects during the summer season, which has also seen record rains and flooding.

Sudden and heavy rainfalls Wednesday evening in northwest China led to flash flooding and mudslides that left at least 16 people dead, according to Chinese state media CCTV.

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