Coal

Anhui Tower

Taken with my iPhone five days ago, on what was a beautiful blue-sky day.

Today, unfortunately, is not such a day. The aqi at the US Embassy is at 429 as I write this (the scale tops-out at 500), and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets worse over the evening. (One note… the reading at the US Embassy is from just one site in a city with a municipality that is larger in area than Rhode Island… it is great as an indicator, and for historical comparisons, but shouldn’t be used as the definitive guide to Beijing’s air quality.)

During the winter months, steam is produced at plants throughout the city, and then piped to distribution centers, before going into dwellings. Unfortunately, these plants are coal-fired… and I don’t mean the “clean burning” type, either.

In addition, there are (usually poorer) households/communities that don’t get steam, and rely on heat by directly burning coal.

During these grey days, I do as most other Beijing people do: limited outside activity, wear a mask when outside, keep the windows and doors shut tight when at home, and look forward to the next big wind.

That said, I don’t dwell on it. It has been part of life during my eight years here, and is certainly not overshadowed by other things that I think make Beijing a wonderful place to live.

Coal Conveyors

The slanted buildings areas conveyors that bring coal upto  furnaces in this structure at Tsinghua University. The coal is burned during wintertime to turn water into steam, which is then piped throughout the campus into radiators to provide heat. Such systems are used throughout Beijing. (In fact, there was a massive effort over the past year to replace major steam pipe arteries.)

In 2001, soon after learning that they’d been awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics, the government undertook a policy of shutting down factories inside of the Fifth Ring Road (or maybe it was the uncompleted Sixth), and relocating them to other provinces.

I think that the only remaining huge smokestacks remaining (and there aren’t a lot of them) inside of the city limits are associated with such heating facilities.

This picture was taken in 2006 from the old Sun Microsystems offices, which were directly across from the facility. During the time that we were there, the building was renovated, and the height of the smoke stack was increased.