This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Residents in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are reporting power outages around midnight, amid a nationwide power crunch in the wake of a ban on coal imports from Australia.
The outages plunged the streets of industrial cities Dongguan, Shenzhen, Foshan, and Zhuhai, as well as Baiyun district in the provincial capital Guangzhou, into darkness, according to photos and video uploaded to social media.
The outages hit at around midnight on Dec. 21, the traditional Winter Solstice festival in the Chinese lunar calendar, the longest night of the year.
In a statement on Monday, the Guangdong Power Supply Bureau blamed equipment failure affecting customers in the Sanyuanli and Luochongwei areas of Guangzhou.
Full power was restored to the grid after an hour, following emergency repairs, it said.
Water supplies and internet connections were also affected, in an incident later described by state-run China Southern Power Grid as a “grid failure,” Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper reported on Monday.
A resident of Guangzhou’s Baiyun district surnamed Zeng said there had been many outages in recent weeks.
“After no outages for 10 years, suddenly this is happening again,” Zeng said. “The reason in this case is that coal supplies are too scarce, and aren’t enough [to meet demand].”
“I heard that they are unable to generate enough electricty.”
Residents said there was no notification of the outages in advance, sparking a flurry of complaints posted to social media platforms by frightened residents.
Posts with the keywords “Guangzhou power outage” attracted millions of views during a brief survey of the Sina Weibo microblogging platform by RFA on Monday.
Electricity, water cut off
Power outages also appeared to have affected other services, with residents of Guangzhou’s Liwan and Baiyun districts complaining that the local mobile phone signal was interrupted for 10 to 20 minutes, and that there was no water or electricity supply.
Some posts reported calling the water supply hotline, and being told that the water supply was affected by the power outages.
Posts also reported that hospitals, nursing homes, and school dormitories in some areas were affected, as well as broadband and mobile internet services.
Rights activist Wang Aizhong, who lives in Guangzhou’s Tianhe district, said there had also been outages in that area a couple of days earlier.
“Two days ago, there was an announcement on Sina Weibo that there were power outages in some areas out of Guangdong,” Wang said. “It wasn’t clear whether this was a normal power outage for maintenance or … due to insufficient power supply.”
A waiter in a restaurant in Zhongshan who gave only the surname Zhu told RFA that he had also seen posts about outages in Shenzhen.
Wang Liang, a retired professor at Jiangxi University, said there was no coverage of the outages elsewhere in China, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda machine kicks into high gear, with social media posts on the topic soon deleted by censors.
“Any posts about coal shortages or power outages are being deleted,” Wang told RFA. “The line is that it’s controllable, and that the grid is capable of meeting basic supply needs.”
“They are blocking retweets of any Weixin posts about power outages,” he said.
Guangdong buys about a quarter of its power from the southwestern province of Yunnan and the massive Three Gorges Dam hydropower project, the Apple Daily said.
It gets half of the rest from coal, a fifth from natural gas, a tenth from nuclear, and the rest from other hydro projects, the paper reported on Monday.
Rationing in other areas
The outages in Guangdong come after power rationing in central Hunan province and the eastern province of Jiangxi, as well as the northern region of Inner Mongolia, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
A seasonal rise in power consumption due to the winter weather and by factories were among reasons for the restrictions, the Apple Daily said.
The Asia Times newspaper reported on Dec. 18 that office towers and shopping malls had repeatedly gone dark in Shanghai, with companies asking their employees to work from home.
“The festive season’s lights are mostly turned off as the city’s usual holiday vibe is largely muted,” the paper said.
“But this time, the lights-out closures spreading across the country are caused by a lack of power, not the pandemic.”
It said small and medium businesses in the eastern Zhejiang province were working remotely after local governments there cut off power to prioritize residential users.
China recently formalized import restrictions targeting Australia’s U.S.$14bn coal exports, Chinese state media reported last week.
The State Development and Reform Commission met 10 major power companies on the weekend and granted approval for them to import coal without clearance restrictions, except for Australia, the CCP-linked Global Times newspaper reported.