Shanghai is Experiencing Energy Crisis

Not only Shanghai. The whole China is facing big challenge of electricity power shortage. Every morning, when I drive along the Zhao Jiang Bang road to work, the morning news from Beijing broadcasts about the shortage and measures the government has taken to overcome it. I have never seen such kind of storage before.

Today, big posters start to appear in Metro City and surrounding areas, calling for electricity-saving. In the poster is a big thermometer inside the Jin Mao Tower, with two temperatures marked: 26°C and 35°C.

The posters suggest people and business to avoid using electricity when the temperature goes higher than 35 degrees in rush hours (morning, noon and night) and not to set air conditioning target temperature lower than 26 degrees.

To my surprise, this campaign goes further than posters outside. I noticed small round blue posters appeared besides the A/C controllers and power switches in the office I am working in. There is the same 26-35 thermometer logo, asking people to save power. It is obvious that the government has learnt much from the SARS campaign to use every media possible to deliver important messages.

According to today’s Sheng Jiang Service Guide, Shanghai Science and Technology Museum starts to create 9000kg ice every night when others don’t use electricity and use the ice as air conditioning power at day time. It is very innovative way to solve power problems.

Although no efforts have been spared to reduce electricity usage, there is still a big gap between demand and supply. I am ready for power cut off in my home this summer. This may happen at any time. This reminds me of the energy crisis in California several years before. I remember even the SFO airport stopped the automatic elevator and turned off most of the lights at day time to save power….

14 thoughts on “Shanghai is Experiencing Energy Crisis

  1. The use of airconditioning in the hot period uses much more power than even the coldest winter in China.

    The “save energy” campain could be unnecessary if the buildings had been constructed with just a minimum of isolation to keep out the heat in summer (and the cold in winter).

    But there seems to be NO laws in that field !

    There are laws for everything else here, but not this.

    Brand new buildings in China are designed with single glass windows and thin concrete walls.

    The windows and sealing of the walls are of so bad design, craftmanship and manufacturing, that the cooling from the aircon goes right out to joy the birds.

    In windy conditions it gets simply impossible to cool down the apartments.

    Most apartments, even new ones, should actually be prohibited from using aircon at all. When do the construction authorities wake up ?

    Aircon is feeding on electricity, and the electricity comes mainly from burning granulated coal and from nuclear power in China.

    Any unused cooling is simply wasted energy and contributes unnecessary to the intense pollution in China.

    In north European countries the heat is no problem, only the cold.

    In fact, noone have aircons at home, only in shopping malls and large business buildings. The doors closes automatically for every person going in and out…

    To reduce the loss of energy, all buildings have (by law) to be isolated with 300 mm mineral wool or similar at the ceiling of rooms, and 100 to 200 mm in the vertical walls, and to have double or triple glass windows. All for the purpose to minimize energy loss. It’s efficient !

    Can I just wake some people who plans to invest in apartments to calculate the energy consumption in the time span (many years) that they use the apartment, and then maybe ask for an isolated apartment, it will be beneficial for China and certainly save huge amounts of money for the apartment owner !

    But, again, if noone know are aware of this loss, nobody does anything.

    “This is the way it is, and we can do nothing”. Not true !

    You are the customer if you want to buy an apartment, so you can make demands.

    In the meantime you can buy some special isolation tape in various thicknesses in Homemart, B&Q or OBI to put around the windows for sealing them. Clean VERY well with detergent before use, otherwise it will fall off quickly.

    Remember the doors, the tape can be used here too around the frame. Between the door (especially the main door) and the floor you can put a special tight brush which avoids wind draft. If you only use aircon in some rooms, check the doors to these rooms for tightness. Now you have done something that may surprise you immmediately, because now the street noise is much lower, only a hush ! That’s another gain.

    The aircon will now have to be set to the appropriate temperature, so it automatically opens and closes when needed. Now the cooling unit should turn on much less than before (that’s the energy you will save).

    If you smoke, you will face a problem now, because the smoke can not get out as quick as you pollute it because the rooms are tight, so YOU will have to go out in the heat and satisfy your needs there. Think of the money you save when you sweat out there…

    Measure the gaps and length of gaps to be tightened before buying anything,because the tape is a little expensive, but you will get the money back quick, perhaps in only one week’s saved energy.

    If you own your apartment, you can go one step further and install double glass windows. Not the sliding type, but attached with hingesin top or side.

    OK, you want to do more ? Put up inside isolation on the walls and ceiling. In Shanghai I think that 40-50 mm is ok.

    Ask in the DIY home markets for details.

    The cheap solution for the windows is to put a frame with one additional layer of glass on the inside, but you can’t open the windows later.

    If you have an old apartment with coal heating (in winter) or coal stove, then

    DO NOT make any isolation, as the carbon monoxide cant escape if you seal the rooms up.

    Put up ceiling fans (good ones with 5 blades and 3 or more speeds).

    Use these as much as possible instead of the aircon, they uses much less energy. I have one in the bedroom, the only one in the entire building actually. Wonderful in the night, because I avoid the cold shoulders and the sneezing in the morning. You can cool down the room with the aircon just ½ hour before bedtime to feel comfortable before sleep.

    OK, that’s enough for now; I will try to find some calculations for the win of isolation later, if I can find the time…

  2. Carsten,

    It sounds like you know a lot of insolation. But the methods you suggest are mainly for cold weather, which may not suitable for Shanghai.

    In China and also in most of countries, construction/design are governed by building code. I remember in Northern China, the external wall should be at least 370 mm, and in Shanghai should be at least 240 mm. But I do agree with you that the craftmanship in China has room to improve.

    When i studied in Beijing, we did exactly the same thing you suggested to our dorm in winter — seal your apartment unit. But in Shanghai, this may not be a good solution.

    In southern China, people open up their doors and windows whenever they got a chance. If you seal everything, you won’t be able to survive the humid weather.

    The energy problem in China, i think, is a growing pain. You guys will all survive this and move on.


    PS: JianShuo, the causes of California energy crisis are interesting. It is due to 1) California government had implemented some energy efficiency programs so successfully that utility companies slashed energy conservation budget; 2) deregualtion allow California utility companies to sell their extra capacity to other states.

    CA’s energy problem is not a capacity problem. When CA needed energy most, the power plants inside CA could not sell electricity to it since they already had the contracts with other states. Other states don’t have those successful stories of energy efficiency program, they were more conservative and ordered more energy conserve. When those states saw the high energy price in CA, they resold the capacity contract back and made a big profit.

    A CA’s successful energy efficiency story ends up with a crisis. It remimds me an old Chinese saying, an old man lost his horse, but who knows what kind of fate it is…

  3. Any insulation method (except relection methods) that prevents heat from escaping (out-flow) in the winter will also stop the heat from entering (in-flow) in the summer. If you seal the Apt well and completely, without missing any holes or cracks, the humidity will actually be kept out, too. Also the humid feeling comes with heat, so when you can lower the temperature in an isolated space it will feel less humid.

    One should notice that most of these insulation methods may not necessarily require sealing the windos/doors completely shut. Therefore, you can still open the windows afterwards if you do the insulation cleverly (You can not open your front door to get in and out if you do the insulation stupidly). The habit of opening the windows, which is really for fresh air but is an inefficient way to cool an indoor space, would be an entirely different matter to reckon with. Chinese people love to have windows opened for circulation, as a habit. I would suggest that you open them briefly (a few minutes will do the job) and only during cooler periods of the day (or night).

    Building codes are not unchallengeable. Rules are made by people and made to be broken. Consumers should not be modest but should demand higher standard of living through better planning, more sensible laws, and stricter enforcement in construction-related industries (or any other industries).

    Having said the above, the main issue about the energy crisis is probably not residential conservation although conservation will definitely help. The main issue is the energy’s supply and demand, and the largest increase in demand I suspect has come from industrial growth. The analogy to California’s situation lies between Shanghai’s rapid expansion in industry and Silicon Valley’s rapid growth (not only in area but also in their newer machines’ power requirement). So, better construction planning would not be enough, this problem has to be addressed as a policy matter on the country’s entire economic scale. Development must begin with a strategic and balanced plan and the plan must be well executed. Nobody can be lazy and nobody can be greedy.

  4. I don’t agree with Shen.

    Thanks, bigbro, for the support to promote the facts.

    In fact, the aircon system dries the air inside.

    It has to, otherwise it will almost rain inside, you can see the humidity as all the drops we get to our heads when we walk the streets of Shanghai…

    The humidity will not be a problem.

    Remember to have mosquito-nets for the windows when they are open, especially in the night.

    In the winter (which is rather cold in Shanghai too !) the aircon system can provide heat, and with the isolation, it will be much easier (and cheaper) to have a comfortable room temperature at all times.

    The wall thickness has nothing to do with isolation, the isolation material thickness and the work done is the important thing.

    No more time now, I’ll check this page later.

  5. at 新街口(xin jie kou) which is CBD in nanjing,all the shopping malls cannot start their bussiness until 12:00 every day. and all the air conditioners cannot run unless the temperature is above 32 degrees. On rush hour, some factories and schools and residential area,where the electricity may be cut off.

    However,seems that chinese government plans to start several nuclear power station dealing with this energy crisis. apparently, energy crisis will not bring the positive effect on economic develepment.

  6. Using an aircond has very poor power efficiency if you have only simple windows. You can notice this by cooling a room to e.g. +25’C, then switching the aircond off: in few minutes it’s the hot air is back. Adding/changing to double windows can keep the cool inside and hot outside (or vice versa) a long time in the whole apartment. Thermodynamically, a single glass is almost as good as no glass at all. Double glazing pays itself back quite quickly, since you’ll be saving in electricity.

    Carsten wrote about double/triple glazing and insulation in north Europe. For exactly the same reasons it should be applied also here: keeping the inside temperature different from outside temperature.

    But of course, in a damp weather you must be ventilating the rooms once in a while, otherwise the walls and places may start growing stuff. In many “luxury apartments” built in 90’s they have this problem: nice temperature but it’s a moisture trap.

  7. Once again friends: can we agree that the aircon dries the air, and thus prevents the moisture to make any damages ?

  8. The air conditioner unit condenses out the moisture as it cools the air. This is quite evident if you take a closer look at the A/C: it has either a tube that drains the condensed water and lets it drip outside or a bucket that collects the condensed water (distilled water). You will be amazed at the amount of water that it takes out of your air. The coolness an A/C creates is from both the lowering of the temperature and the decrease in humidity.

    Similarly, in a car with air conditioning, have you ever noticed the dripping water underneaththe wheels if have the A/C turned on for a while?

    A “moisture trap” would exist only in an insulated space WITHOUT air conditioning. Excellent seals plus an A/C would be very good for the health of the building.

    Once again, opening the windows is a habit and its real purpose is just for the freshness of the indoor air, that is, it gets rid of the stale odour, etc. Carsten mentioned window screens for openable windows, that is important, as it keeps bugs, pollens and some other pollutants out.

  9. So, what do we end up with this energy crisis ?

    As a citizen we can do something to keep the apartments tight to save our money, and thus prevent more pollution.

    Next step is to convince the companies to stop the careless waste of energy.

    (Is all really left to the authorities here ?)

    I remember when I was 12 years old in my hometown, I joined a child television theme of taking pictures of things that disturbed our lives.

    I ran around and took photos of a nearby new free/high-way and the surrounding nature and its beauty.

    This highway was meant to be increased with an additional lane.

    The story and the photos was a succes and was broadcasted, and I nearly win 1’st price in that contest, all focused on preserving the natural values that we had.

    The result was that the planned 3’rd track of the highway was cancelled !


    How about to create a “people’s army” of voluntares who will find all the spots that waste energy and stinks and pollutes in China ? (I don’t know if that’s possible in China ?)

    But I’m sure that it will be of great help to the authorities !

    You find the shit – they register it.

    Then they’ll have a better chance to stop the pollution. THAT IS THE TREND NOW !

    I can give examples what to do :

    Register the license plates of trucks and busses that puff out the black clouds of particles which will get to YOUR lungs after they are out of sight.

    Report them to the authorities.

    Report oil spill and chemical spill.

    Report if water seems dirty (more than usual…)

    When you do, note date, time and all details you can think of.

    Then send it to eg. ( I think that is the correct email address of Shanghai Environment Protection Bureau).

    In your work and reports, do not reveal your true identity; it is up to the authorities to be the authorities, in China only they have the real power,

    not you. But you CAN do something.

    Good luck!

  10. i just came back from hangzhou. the situation there is serious. I missed the good fortune of appreciating the beauty of West Lake at night because all decorative lights were switched off. the city looked like a ghost town when i stroll the main shopping street: facade lights, billboard lights were all closed.

  11. People will find ways to managed themself quite fine, there’s no need for any law or any that sort.

    Unfortunately, people are become more and more restricted in doing things due to laws, and in the end, they end up making more mistakes thanks due the laws, that officially said that they were created to stop people into becoming criminals, but in reality, actually making more criminals out of people. Enviromental laws are probably the most anti-human laws, what’s good the enviroment would be if there aren’t people around? But then again, maybe that’s the originial plan, to get rid of people.

    Each person’s need and habit is different, that we must understand.

    When someone done things that we find it offensive, we report it to that person directly, there’s no need to go to some kind of authority first, of course unless the authority is the one responsible (for example, a parent is responsible for his/her child). But even then, things might not have to go so far to the authority.

    To report someone unnecessary is to become a snitch, is this the way we want our society to become? A society of snitchers?

    No, a society instead should consist a bunch of selfish people. Yes, that’s right, selfish people. Contrary to what the brainwashing, selfish people aren’t bad people, they don’t do negative things to the people surrounding them (provided that they done things purely based on themself, and not based on what their education system told them).

    Being selfish means minding your own business primary. Buddha is quite a selfish person you know.

    If each person mind their own business, they will realize that somehow for their own benefit, they need to help others because humans are social creatures and need a society to exist.

    Even if they don’t realize it, by taking care of themself, they will indirectly caused their own good benefit to be passed on to others. Like if you don’t waste water, you will indirectly providing water for others, even if you don’t care much about what the other person need.

    In the end, each person will indirectly help others because he/she is actually serving his/her own need. Wouldn’t it better if we all become more self serving and not community serving, no, to be more precise, serving the needs of a few, because even self serving is community serving due the reasons mentioned above. What we want is NOT to serve the needs of a few, we want to serve our own need.

    If you brainwashed someone to serve the needs of others, they will rebel and things messed up. But that’s probably also part of the intended programming, to make people mess up.

    The whole California laws in regarding energy laws, sounded a lot more like something that would come up from a ‘communist’ country. Is the U.S.A. a communist country?

  12. Hi you all,

    When searching for triple pane windows I came across this site. I’m currently working in Shanghai, trying to promote insulation as one of the easiest ways in decreasing the extreme energy use in China.

    I know this is from 5 years back but I was hoping some of you might still get an update when I post a message. Would love to hear from you and get in contact so share some info.



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