It snowed this week. Just a little bit, but there was snow all the same. Outside right now the temperature is a heady +2 degrees, but according to Weatherbug it will fall to -2 tonight and to -4 again later in the week. Not that that’s any real guide I know. Right now my Weatherbug desktop app seems to have got it into its thick head that Beijing is a suburb of Qingdao – so maybe we are in for some blizzards in the next few days?
So what, you are probably wondering? So look at the calendar. We’re not even at the end of March yet, but according to some crazy regulations dating back to the centrally-planned economy of the 1960s the central heating is switched off across large swathes of northern China and people are left to shiver in their apartments or wear coats at their office desks simply because of this, to me, ridiculous outdated regulation.
Across from me now there is a colleague wrapped up in a blue and white fluffy blanket; while sitting next to me another is dressed up to kill in a fur-trimmed trench coat.
What happens is that the majority of the older apartment blocks and office blocks across the city have their heating piped to them centrally from a local neighbourhood heating station. It is either on or off. According to the calendar, it is switched off around March 20th and on again near the end of November.
Now, I fully understand that China, along with many other countries, has to keep an eye on its energy bill. Apparently the energy needed to run the central heating systems in northern China accounts for a quarter of the total energy consumption of the entire country and costs around 70 billion yuan. But it’s exactly because of these huge figures that to my mind this centralized heating system is anachronistic, belonging to an age long gone.
Consider this, for example: since last November the radiators in my apartment block have been churning out massive amounts of heat keeping me, and my fellow residents, warm as toast. There are no controls on the radiators allowing me to turn them off or even down a little. There are no thermostats either, meaning that when the temperature becomes just too overpowering I have to open a window or two to bring the heat down to an acceptable level. In fact, for most of the winter I have left two of my windows partially open to compensate for the overpowering heat being served up.
What a waste!
But there’s more. In a typical 24-hour period, I am in my apartment for maybe 10 hours only. So for 14 hours every day – or 60 per cent of the time – my apartment stands empty; and yet still the heat pours out and escapes to heat up the winter chill outside.
Isn’t it about time someone mentioned to the powers that be here that hey guys, we’re actually in the 21st century nowadays. Surely it would make a lot more sense to install thermostats straight away across the entire area. Compared with half a century ago they’re dirt cheap; and the costs involved would be recouped many times over, as most countries in the West could testify.
Additionally if a metering system was introduced, so that everyone knew how much energy they were using, then even more energy would be saved – especially if people were ‘encouraged’ to switch off their heating when they were not at home.
Or maybe even, it’s high time that the authorities considered replacing the centralized district heating system with individual gas boilers that not only produce hot water, but serve the radiators too. Again these gas boilers are hugely more efficient than they ever were in the past.
So now I have on my electric heater, which I purchased last October, and which has been sitting idly by since mid November, sitting in the hallway and warming up my entire apartment, whose doors are all left open to waft through the hot air. My apartment windows have finally been closed too. So worry not dear blogger readers; until the temperatures take a turn for the better I, for one, will remain perfectly comfortable sitting inside my temperature-controlled igloo.