ARKANSAS, Sept 25 (Future Headlines)- In a surprising turn of events, China has defied a persistent drought across its southern provinces to bolster hydroelectric generation to near-record levels in August. This strategic move comes as a deliberate decision by generators and regulators to manage reservoir levels carefully and mitigate the risk of electricity shortages during the summer, a recurring issue in previous years.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China’s hydro sources generated a remarkable 147 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in August, a substantial increase from 123 billion kWh during the same month the previous year. This surge in hydro generation marks a significant departure from the trend of declining hydro output over the past year.

This elevated hydro generation effectively compensated for the weaker performance of other energy sources. Wind farms, for instance, saw a decrease of 2 billion kWh in generation, while solar and nuclear energy contributed modest increases of 6 billion kWh and 2 billion kWh, respectively. Additionally, thermal output, primarily fueled by emissions-intensive coal, was reduced by 10 billion kWh.

China’s decision to increase hydro generation during a period of prolonged drought showcases the country’s proactive approach to energy management. Despite the adverse weather conditions in the southwestern provinces where many hydro generators are situated, China prioritized the stability of its electricity supply. This strategic move comes as a preventive measure to avoid electricity shortages and blackouts during the scorching summer months, a scenario that has plagued the nation in the past. By tapping into its hydroelectric potential, China was able to alleviate the strain on coal-fired power generation, which was facing challenges due to mine safety checks and a slower growth rate in domestic coal production.

While this surge in hydro generation has been a welcome respite for China’s electricity supply, it may not be sustainable in the long term. The continued drought across the southwestern provinces poses a significant risk to reservoir levels. Consequently, it’s unlikely that hydro generation can maintain these elevated levels beyond the coming months.

The future of hydroelectric generation in China is contingent on the arrival of spring rains in April 2024 and, more importantly, the onset of the next major wet season in July 2024. Until then, hydro may need to be restricted to manage reservoir levels prudently.

Coal production is another critical factor in China’s energy landscape. While the total amount of coal available from domestic mines and imports increased by 27 million metric tons or 7% compared to the previous year, domestic production experienced a more modest growth of 3%. In contrast, imports surged by 50%, accounting for the majority of the overall increase.

It’s worth noting that the growth in domestic coal production has slowed significantly since May. This slowdown limits the extent to which coal-fired generation can support the grid, potentially putting more pressure on coal supplies during the upcoming winter months in 2023/24. As China continues to grapple with the complex dynamics of its energy sector, including coal production and renewable energy sources, prudent management and strategic decisions will be pivotal in maintaining a reliable and sustainable electricity supply for its growing population and expanding economy.

Writing by Kevin Wood; Editing by Sarah White