Energy security a priority for heating in chilly winter

Over the past decade, the ever-evolving and expanding energy supply system has rapidly shifted toward green, low-carbon, safe and efficient alternatives.


Residents ride in the snow in Fuyang, East China's Anhui province, on Dec 29, 2020. Temperatures drop to -8 C in the city. PHOTO: IC/CHINA DAILY

December 20, 2023

BEIJING – With winters getting colder and harsher, providing regular heating for people in northern China and ensuring the well-being of the people hit by frequent extreme weather events due to climate change is both a manifestation of China’s people-centric development philosophy and the high-quality development of the energy industry.

Since China is a vast country, there are significant differences between its northern and southern regions in terms of natural resources, economic and social development, and lifestyle. Over time, a diverse array of heating methods tailored to suit local conditions has emerged, supported by the comprehensive development of energy resources such as coal, oil, natural gas and renewable energy.

Over the past decade, the ever-evolving and expanding energy supply system has rapidly shifted toward green, low-carbon, safe and efficient alternatives. Consequently, the overall assurance level and convenience of providing heating during winter have greatly improved.

Since the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period, clean energy sources have replaced coal to generate and supply heating to “2+26” cities and the Fenwei Plain in northern China, covering about 25 million households. During the middle of the 13th Five-Year Plan period, natural gas supply became erratic, impacting a wide range of areas and affecting people’s livelihoods, especially due to disruptions in heating supply.

In the years since then, however, substantial improvements have been made in generating heating using natural gas. Simultaneously, despite the historically high natural gas prices in the global markets, China’s import volume has remained stable because of the long-term contracts it had signed with supplying countries.

Yet it pays to be prudent, because not being able to anticipate potential challenges can lead to waste. When it comes to matters of paramount importance, such as providing undisrupted heating for the people, there is no room for complacency. As such, in mid-October, the National Energy Administration convened a meeting with the three major oil and gas companies and the national pipeline network company to coordinate efforts to guarantee uninterrupted natural gas supply during winter. The meeting outlined specific measures for key regions, critical timeframes, and crucial aspects of natural gas supply, along with corresponding work requirements.

Since last winter, China has greatly improved its natural gas production-supply-storage-sales system. And while natural gas consumption has recovered, some regions have even added new natural gas heating facilities.

However, State-owned oil and gas enterprises should continue to take the lead in stabilizing supply and controlling prices by, for instance, increasing domestic production and storage capacity, and ensuring that gas reserves are ample. In addition, pipeline network and distribution companies at all levels should coordinate their actions and provide undisrupted supply of natural gas during winter.

Yet the regular supply of coal and electricity is crucial for guaranteeing undisrupted heating in winter. Based on its energy resource endowment, China has accorded priority to the simultaneous development and safeguarding of energy resources, including coal and electricity.

For example, China has optimized the layout of advanced coal production capacity, and promoted the green and high-quality development of five major coal production bases — Shanxi province, western Inner Mongolia autonomous region, eastern Inner Mongolia, northern Shaanxi and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. And the improvement in the cross-regional transport system, especially higher transportation capacity of “coal from the north to the south and from the west to the east”, has ensured the smooth supply of coal across the country.

Also, the tight supply-demand situation in the domestic coal market has been largely eased and coal prices stabilized, and the transmission mechanism for coal and electricity prices has become more flexible. Therefore, enough supply of coal is guaranteed to meet the winter heating needs.

Moreover, despite the steady increase in total electricity consumption in recent years, the year-on-year growth rate of electricity consumption has been fluctuating due to the rapid expansion of new energy sources such as wind and solar power, leading to the transformation in the power supply structure.

The role of electricity generated by using new energy resources in ensuring stable power supply has become increasingly prominent, while the coal-fired power sector has become cleaner and more efficient, contributing to improved security for centralized heating and electric heating.

Simultaneously, the electricity market has become more dynamic and demand-side management is becoming more standardized. In summary, the uninterrupted supply of electricity during winter has significantly improved, and the advancements made by the new energy and coal-fired power sectors ensure smooth supply of heating in winter.

The author is a senior counselor and researcher at the Institute of Energy Research, Academy of Macroeconomic Research.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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