Society

Too damn hot

An unanticipated use for air raid shelters

Cool scene: demand for air-conditioning units is growing

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, has always been admired for keeping his cool.

Fewer people are aware how much thought he has given to the importance of temperature.

Indeed, when asked for his view on the most significant invention of the 20th century he plumped for the air conditioner. Without air-con, Lee said, many of his countrymen “would probably be sitting under coconut trees instead of working in high-tech factories.”

Less than a hundred miles from the equator, Singapore needs to chill more than most. Even so, as late as 1988 fewer than one in five of its households had air-conditioning, although this was up to three in five a decade later, says the New York Times.

A similar transition in China will have major implications for national energy consumption, as well as for wider climate change.

China’s weather is far more seasonal, than Singapore’s, of course. Different regions also experience very different weather conditions.

But air conditioning is in particular demand at the moment, as the country enters fu tian or hot season. Traditionally the “four furnace” cities of Wuhan, Nanjing, Chongqing and Changsha have been said to bear the brunt of the heat, although there are now others that claim to be no better off than the fiery four.

Last year Jinan in Shandong earned the hottest day title, at 40.9 degrees Celsius. Then again, temperatures are rarely officially recorded above the 40 degrees mark, as it is often a cut off point for sending workers home for the day.

To escape the heat, the Chinese have been buying more air-con units, and 20 million are now sold annually. A government subsidy scheme that promotes the trade-in of older models for energy-saving versions is expected to push sales higher this year. This week Chigo Holding – a China-based manufacturer of air-conditioning products – listed in Hong Kong; its retail tranche was 346 times oversubscribed.

But Beijing also wants to see more disciplined air-con usage. So temperature dials in public buildings are not supposed to be set at lower than 26 degrees in summer, and the government hopes that private individuals will follow suit.

The China Economic Times says the policy is still not widely observed. Like many official directives, implementation has been patchy, and the penalties for non-compliance are unclear.

There are also complaints that the directive is too rigid. So the south, which generally suffers from more humidity than the north in summer, wants a lower minimum threshold. Others argue that a 26 degrees cap may be appropriate for a hotel lobby but is less acceptable in a restaurant kitchen.

Still, turning down that dial a few hundred million times over would clearly aggregate into some pretty significant benefits: 90 million kilowatts of power annually by 2020, the China Economic Times thinks. That’s an equivalent of two-to-three times the country’s forecast capacity in nuclear power.

But the Today Morning Express looks at the nuclear option from another angle. The newspaper describes how the Hangzhou authorities are now opening air raid bunkers to offer shelter to flustered members of the public.

The subterranean air in the nine shelters fluctuates in a pleasant 18-22 degree range. A whole lot more manageable than temperatures outside in the mid-30s.


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