COZY HOME: Ma Weili, a resident in Jiaoweiying Hutong, former Xuanwu District of Beijing, plays with her kitten in a room heated with an electric heater after the coal-to-electricity project on December 9, 2008 (LUO XIAOGUANG)
After the implementation of the coal-to-electricity project in the Dongsi neighborhood in 2003, the average sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide concentrations have been decreasing. In 2009, the concentrations in Dongsi dropped to 73 micrograms per cubic meter and 2.7 milligrams per cubic meter, about the same level as the average of Beijing urban area.
After the program, the coal used for winter heating in Beijing's former Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chongwen and Xuanwu districts gradually dwindled, dropping from 178,600 tons in 2005 to 70,000 tons in 2009, according to data from Beijing Golden Tide Group, the primary coal supplier to downtown Beijing residents.
From the changes in the amount of coal consumed, Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau concluded that each year, the coal-to-electricity project reduced approximately 160 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions and at least 8,000 tons of carbon monoxide emissions.
The coal-to-electricity or -natural gas program implemented in 2010 will further cut coal consumption in winter by nearly 10,000 tons, said the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
New buildings mushroomed in Beijing during the past decade. In winter, they need lots of energy for heating.
In north China, winter heating accounts for about 40 percent of total energy consumption, said Kang Yanbing, a researcher with the Energy Research Institute under China's National Development and Reform Commission.
In Beijing, winter heating systems cover 650 million square meters in 2010, up from 200 million square meters in 2000, wrote Guo Weiqi, head of the heating office of the Beijing Municipal Commission of City Administration and Environment, in a paper published earlier this year.
Currently, 43.1 percent of the building area in Beijing is heated by gas-fired furnaces, 33.9 percent by coal-fired furnaces, 21.4 percent by district heating network, and the remaining by oil and other energy sources, Guo recently told the Beijing-based Energy Magazine.
Beijing District Heating Group, set up in 2000, is one of the largest heating utilities group in China. In 2009, it provided heating to 2,070 organizations and more than 400,000 households. Over the years, it has installed advanced equipment such as self-acting flow controllers and variable speed governors in its heating stations, which save energy and reduce pollution.
One problem with the district heating network is inefficient old heat transfer pipes. A large amount of heat, sometimes up to 30 percent of total heat, is lost in the transfer process, said Guo.
Since 2008, Beijing Municipal Government has upgraded its old pipe network in 3,019 communities, Guo said. The municipal and district governments respectively shoulder 30 percent and 20 percent of the renovation cost, whereas the remaining 50 percent by heating companies that own the pipe network.
Another problem with the old central heating is that residents have no control over their heating system. When people are not at home, they can not even turn the heating down or off. But now technology is available for some households to control the indoor temperature, and heat meter can log the actual energy used.
Heat meters are being piloted in Beijing. Government office buildings and large public buildings in Beijing are required to install heat meters and so are residential buildings completed after January 1, 2010, reported Beijing Evening News in November.
In 2010, about 10,000 households and some government buildings and large commercial buildings in Beijing will pilot paying for their heating bills according to the reading of heat meters, the paper said.
Under the new pricing system, the heating bill will consist of two parts. One part covers fixed asset depreciation and heat lost during transfer, and the other part will cover the actual heat consumed by the user, said Guo.