China asks Russia to boost electricity amid widespread blackouts

China has asked Russia to boost its electricity supply as the world’s most populous country grapples with power cuts that have left millions of people in the dark. 

A company spokesperson for Inter Rao, Russia’s monopoly for electricity exports, said China asked the company to send more power to its northern provinces, most impacted by the blackouts. 

State-owned electricity providers are using power outages in the face of rising coal prices, and as authorities aim to enforce energy use caps aimed at reducing carbon emissions as part of wider efforts to tackle climate change as the country gears up to host the Cop15 biodiversity summit next week.

China has pledged ambitious goals, including to hit peak emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2060. Still, Beijing is under increasing pressure to do more ahead of November’s international climate negotiations in Glasgow.

The electricity deficit is disruptive for the country’s 1.4 billion people, used to always being on the go. It also has further knock-on effects, snarling global supply chains for everything from smartphones to fast fashion as Apple suppliers and textile factories shut down. 

Travelers gather in the square outside Shanghai Railway Station

Credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Restaurants are using bike batteries to fire up electric stoves. Smartphones are doubling as torches in the dark, though these are stopgap measures as eventually such devices need to be recharged.

Pedestrians are more cautious than ever as traffic lights blinking off have led to chaos on the roads. 

People have taken to social media to complain.

Some posted pictures of various notices going up in commercial and residential compounds notifying tenants of power outages, at times lasting nearly all day.

“At the moment, there is no news about when power will resume; city authorities are still awaiting updates from the provincial level,” reads one notice, which included a hotline people can ring with questions.

A vendor cooks barbecues at the entrance of an industrial park in Houjie, in Dongguan

Credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Another notified the public that electricity could be restricted “at any time," adding: "Please be prepared for power outages at any time.”

A lack of power is even affecting plumbing as electricity pumps that would normally move water into homes have stopped working, leaving toilets unflushed and taps dry. In some households, no energy source to power boilers means no hot water supply.

“Days without electricity and water are really too difficult,” wrote one social media user. “We can’t even go to the toilet. My mobile power bank is running low, and my phone battery is draining. Even the canteen can’t operate, so there’s no food or drink…”

Another described feeling panicked and bewildered when stuck in a lift that suddenly stopped midway. “I was trapped alone in an elevator for over 20 minutes, and there was no mobile phone service,” he said. 

Others, however, are trying to see the light.

“I discovered there wasn’t a full blackout (in my block of flats); power was only cut to the lift,” read one post. “But climbing the stairs is good exercise!” 

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