BEIJING, Aug. 9 -- Chen Yi, a government civil servant, found the room temperature of her office in downtown Beijing was much higher than before, not only because of the particularly sultry weather this summer, but also the air conditioner which was set at 26 degree Celsius.
"We are told the room temperature should be higher than 26 degree Celsius in the summer. It is not a new rule, but has never been strictly implemented like this year," Chen said, and recalled, in past years, scorching summer days which required wrapping up in a coat in the artificially cold office.
China's national campaign on energy savings and emission cuts was apparently also felt by the general public, as room temperature controls were enforced in places ranging from government offices to shopping malls, and the world's toughest emission standard has been forced onto auto consumers. Even to save electricity normally used by power-guzzling elevators, more people have begun to climb stairs on foot.
Despite its efforts, China faces a grim forecast for meeting its energy efficiency goals. China seeks to cut energy consumption per unit of economic output by 20 percent by the end of 2010 from its 2006 level. The government reported in July that energy use had been reduced by 15.69 percent by the end of 2009.
However, this trend was reversed during the first quarter of this year as energy use per unit of GDP rose by 3.2 percent year on year. Also, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported on Tuesday that the figure for the first half of this year was 0.9 percent higher year on year.
"It is rather difficult to meet the five-year energy saving target in time," Li Zuojun, a researcher with the National Development and Research Center of the State Council, said.
A construction boom followed by the stimulus package to tackle the global financial crisis drove up demand in power-consuming industries such as steel, cement, and petroleum. This explained the reduced energy efficiency figures in the first quarter, the NBS said in a statement.
The Chinese government faces a tricky dilemma to balance economic recovery which is, so far, still heavily dependent upon polluting industrial expansion, and to meet the energy austerity target, which is essential for the country's sustainable development, along with the Chinese government's solemn promise to the world.
As a part of efforts to save energy, China shut down small coal-fuelled power plants with a total generating capacity of 54.07 million kilowatts from 2006 to the end of June this year, the National Energy Administration reported at the end of July. In doing this, authorities were 18 months ahead of schedule in their goal to close 50 million kilowatts of coal-fuelled generating capacity by the end of 2010.
China's manufacturing activity recently contracted as the Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for China's manufacturing sector stood at 51.2 percent in July, down 0.9 percentage points from the previous month, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP) said Sunday.
Wang Qing, an economist with Morgan Stanley Asia, said the intensified energy cutting efforts would further hold back industrial expansion.
Wang Tao, an economist with UBS Securities China estimated more harsh measures on energy savings are expected to drag down GDP growth by 2 percentage points during the latter half of the year.
However, the conflict continues between maintaining economic growth and saving energy, as the performance of local officials is mainly evaluated by GDP growth, Yuan Gangming, professor with Tsinghua University, said.
An unnamed expert with energy research institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic regulatory body, said the energy saving target should be met at the end of this year, even if that means sacrificing GDP growth.
This complies with the government's pledge to restructure the economic development mode, which is a top priority this year, he said.
Experts said, if necessary, some enterprises would go through compulsory technical checks of their energy-guzzling facilities. Also, the elimination of obsolete industrial capacity must continue.