When the Lights Go Out

When Typhoon Haitang hit mainland China yesterday, more than a million people had already evacuated the area. In Taiwan, four people have died, and people throughout China were injured from heavy winds, rain, swollen rivers, and falling trees.

The good news in all this is that China was well prepared for the storm. Sandbags had been stacked and military personnel stood by to assist when the storm crashed against the coast.

Amidst all this chaos, China had other plans to make.

As China, and particularly Beijing, is now entering its typical summer season heat wave, where temperatures are expected in the 100º Fahrenheit/40º Celsius range, municipal governments are really feeling the heat where energy usage is concerned. To try to alleviate the strain of the energy demand as the Chinese crank up their air conditioners, 962 industrial businesses in Beijing have gone on a holiday.

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You read that right. Beijing local government has sent employees from over 950 local industrial enterprises home for a week-long paid vacation in a strategy to help save energy. Over the coming four weeks, 4,689 companies in total will give their employees a paid vacation, and the lights and the machines in the factories will be turned off.

The price of power has already increased in China, and the State Electricity Dispatching Centre predicts that this summer will represent the worst “power crunch” on record for the energy- hungry country.

Other strategies to beat the energy demand include introducing night shifts to alleviate daytime energy use and shutting factories completely down during off hours.

Beijing government and the Beijing Electric Power Corp. hope that the mandatory week-long holiday will save the strain of approximately 280,000 kilowatts of power supply during peak hours of energy consumption.

To make up for the lost time in production, industrial businesses have been given permission by Beijing municipal government to start a temporary six-day-per-week work schedule come fall.

The unscheduled vacation time has certainly been welcomed by Beijing workers, and I think the strategy is a good one. Had Toronto had such foresight, we probably could have avoided the blackout we experienced in 2003.

As energy demand continues to grow, strategies have to be put in place to save power. We know that, yet we don’t do anything about it.

Mandatory vacations for Beijing industrial factories are yet another example of how China is ahead of North America these days in business.

When the lights go out next time in North America–and they will–we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.