A worker checks a voltage transformer in Taizhou, East China's Jiangsu Province in January 2018.(Photo: IC)
The array of proposals and statements by lawmakers and political advisors from the energy circle at the ongoing "two sessions" is connected to a series of national campaigns, including supply-side structural reforms, poverty alleviation and environmental protection, which all rest with the central government to ensure the careful coordination and execution of such activities across the nation, like moves on a chessboard.
The year 2018 is set to be a big year regarding the performance of China's energy sector, as the past few months have already seen a number of "firsts" and with that trend forecast to continue through to December.
It is the first year for China to hold the title of the world's largest crude importer, as the country overtook the US in 2017. This year will also be the first year whereby measures to address a natural gas supply crunch that left some households without heating and disrupted industrial production in the winter of 2017 are truly realized. Furthermore, the nation's new-energy vehicle industry will see the implementation of quota systems for the first time.
Media reports on groundbreaking proposals and statements voiced by energy industry delegates attending the ongoing two sessions - key annual meetings of China's top legislative and advisory bodies - have revealed some of the underlying issues faced by China's energy industries. Some of those issues include implementing supply-side reforms, improving efficiency and building "a beautiful country."
Shift in focus
A comparison between proposals put forward this year and those put forward in 2017 reveals a major shift in the ways lawmakers and political advisors from the domestic natural gas industry think.
According to media reports on 2017's meeting, lawmakers and political advisors were primarily concerned with how to lift natural gas consumption in order to meet the nation's long-term goal of continuously increasing clean energy use.
Proposals that year touched upon topics such as switching from coal to natural gas or petroleum gas, the potential of domestic natural gas production and the installation of gas turbines.
However, after a natural gas shortage hit the northern part of the country in the winter of 2017, this year's proposals are mainly concentrated on the building-up and extension of gas storage facilities and pipelines.
He Lifeng, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a press conference on the sidelines of the two sessions meeting that the winter of 2017 exposed some infrastructure loopholes in storage capacity building of natural gas and liquefied natural gas.
He said efforts will be put into building a national gas transport network to enable the diverting of gas from southern to northern parts of the country.
China will also work on building an adjustment mechanism capable of diverting about 200 million cubic meters of natural gas, he added.
He's statements were echoed by Wang Yilin, a political advisor and also the chairman of State-owned petroleum giant China National Petroleum Corp, and Kong Fanqun, a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy and also the assistant to the general manager of Sinopec Corp, another oil giant and State-owned gas firm.
Wang said the CNPC's adjustment capacity only represents 4.7 percent of its annual sales volume, far lower than the 10 percent global average.
Meanwhile, Kong called for the commercialization of the natural gas storage business as well as fiscal, land and price incentives by the government to encourage private investment.
On the other side, some suggested the sector should be open to including more participants than just State-owned giants.
The All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce said in its proposal that private-owned firms should be allowed access to the natural gas industry. So far, China's "big three" oil giants have handled most gas imports and the CNPC almost monopolized the trade of gas imports via pipelines, the federation pointed out.
In some sectors this year, solutions proposed remain more or less the same compared with those proposed in 2017, for example, those related to the tackling of wasted energy generated from new-energy sources such as wind and solar.
Supporting remote provinces
Delegates from hinterland provinces such as Northeast China's Heilongjiang and Southwest China's Sichuan Province called for the construction of ultra-high voltage (UHV) power transmission lines to "export" their surplus clean energy to other provinces that desperately need power.
Li Yonglai, head of the State Grid Corp of China (SGCC) Heilongjiang division, suggested a UHV line linking Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, with Tianjin, as this could enable the exportation of surplus clean energy from the province, which would help boost rejuvenation in the northeastern parts of the country.
The distance between the two cities is about 1,100 kilometers.
Many of the delegates from the energy circle are connected to the nation's key campaigns such as alleviating poverty and improving environmental standards.
Another SGCC executive, NPC deputy Shi Yudong from Sichuan, linked the exportation of clean energy sources to other localities driving poverty alleviation efforts in poorer western regions, the construction of ecological civilization, the campaign to fight air pollution and the initiative to build a beautiful country.
Feng Jianshen, a political advisor from Northwest China's Gansu Province, called for more power system reforms in the form of a regional power grid pilot program so that locally produced power from wind and solar generators could be used in that local region, as cross-region power transportation remains limited.
This would solve the paradox of having generators sitting idle on the one hand and having locals paying expensive power bills on the other, he said.
Comments also came from the coal industry, which still represents about 60 percent of total energy consumption after the percentage dropped by 1.7 percentage points in 2017.
Ling Wen, a political advisor and general manager of China Energy Corp, urged Chinese society not to blindly steer away from coal as the clean use of coal has basically been mastered.
With the array of proposals and statements at two sessions, it can be said that many who spoke stood behind the interests of different localities, different industries and different ownerships.
However, while delegates have every right to voice their concerns, it rests with the central government to ensure the careful coordination and execution of such activities across the nation, like moves on a chessboard.
The Chinese energy industry has made great achievements over the past five years, and it would be worthy to see what will be accomplished in the coming year, and the winter season at the end of this year will certainly stand the test of time.