Beijing Power Consumption Hits Historic Peak During Extreme Heat Wave

by Jay Kimball on 28 July 2010

China Daily is reporting the extreme heat and humidity in Beijing has lead to record consumption of electricity.  Beijing’s power consumption exceeded 15 million kilowatts for the first time in history on July 23, around 5 million kilowatts of which was consumed by air-conditioners, according to a report from the Mirror Evening News.

The picture below, with the iconic Gucci shirt, provides ironic symbolism for the superconsumer trends unfolding in China.

Beijing Heat Wave

(source: China Daily)

As China’s population has grown, per capita income and consumption have grown. Let’s take a look at the trends in energy use and per capita income relative to US and India. Using GapMinder’s Trendalyzer with energy consumption data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2010 and income data from the IMF, we can see some powerful trends unfolding (N.B.: Data presented for 1965 through 2008, 1 year steps, circle area proportional to population size, energy use in tonnes of oil equivalent):

Energy Consumption and Income for US, China, and India

Per Capita Income and Energy Consumption in China, India and the US

  • China and India show steadily increasing per capita income, with China having the biggest change – outperforming India more than 2 to 1.
  • This increase in income is fueling the growth of China’s middle class. Western-style patterns of consumption are leading to China’s increased consumption of energy, water, raw materials… The trend is strong and steady, with no signs of slowing.

To meet this growing need for energy, China has been building about 2 power plants per week – mostly coal burning. As is widely known, coal power generation is about as dirty as it gets, and accounts for about 20 percent of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions globally. Coal is used to produce about 70% of energy consumed in China.

The Chinese are in a climate change death spiral. Using the heat wave in Beijing as an example – to meet the expanding populations growing demand for energy, China builds about 2 coal-fired power plants per week. The coal exacerbates global warming. The population turns up their air conditioners, which leads to record energy consumption and drives the need for more power plants, and the spiral continues until… What?

For more on record heat and the impact it has on people, food production and wellbeing, see NOAA: June, April to June, and Year-to-Date Global Temperatures are Warmest on Record.

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