black snow

January 18th, 2009

It took a bit of scrolling through these photos, but I did manage to confirm that the “工大建国饭店” of the headline is the one in the southwest corner of my university’s campus. And I suspect that the second of the confirming photos shows why black snow would be falling in that area: The cars are parked right next to a coal-fired central heating plant.

And clicking through to page 2, I see right at the top the building I lived in from December 24, 2002 right through SARS to May of ’04. Two winters spent maybe 50 metres from that very central heating plant, and not once did I see any of this “black snow”. And I now live a few hundred metres north of there, and we haven’t seen any “black snow” up here.

But then the original poster, “蓝色幽灵” (Blue Spectre) leaves this odd little comment:


There’s none during the day, it’s only emitted at night.

Aha. Is management turning off some kind of emissions cleaning-up equipment overnight when nobody will notice? If so, they got noticed. And why would they do that? Would that save them money? Oh, later on there’s another comment from the original poster:



There should be a way to deal with it, because during the day the black snow doesn’t float in the air, it’s only in the still of the night.

I reckon the boiler turns off the dust-removing equipment.

Yeah, that’s what I’d be thinking.

Anyway, like I said, I haven’t seen any of this “black snow”, but back when I lived just across the road from that central heating plant, and not this winter. But then again, I haven’t been down that way for a hell of a long time- which is odd, because one of my favourite local supermarkets is right across the road from that plant. Although, that plant’s chimney is clearly visible from most parts of the campus and it serves as my barometer on the many winter days I cross the footbridge over Xidawang Lu and enter the campus. The smoke is always white and I’ve seen no evidence of anything going wrong….

…but those photos clearly show there is a problem, and those two comments from the original poster seem to suggest that somebody in the plant may be playing silly buggers with the equipment installed to protect the local environment from the worst ravages of coal smoke, turning it off at night when nobody will notice, perhaps to save a bit of money.

4 Responses to “black snow”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Running the dust and SO2 controls for a coal fired thermal plant requires a lot of electricity. It’s a common practice in many of the less developed parts of China not to run the equipment unless a regulator is watching. I’m sort of surprised, however, that this type of thing is still happening in Beijing.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Thanks, Charlie. I knew there was some reason like that for cheap managers to be turning such equipment off. But at least a power plant is generating electricity- would I be right in assuming that the cost of running such equipment would be even higher for a neighbourhood central heating plant?

    Like I said in the post, I used to live right across the road, and I’m still only a few hundred metres from that plant, and I’ve never seen this “black snow” in the area before, so yeah, I’m surprised, too. Could it be rises in the price of coal or electricity putting the plant under financial strain?

  3. Charlie Says:

    I assume the central heating plant has to pay “retail” for its electricity. It’s hard to say what impact coal costs have. If they negotiated a long-term coal supply contract this summer (when coal prices were at their peak) than they are getting killed and they may need to do everything they can to improve their margins; if they are buying in the spot market now (with coal prices at near record lows) they are probably making out like bandits, but they may have a new boss who wants to make out like the king of bandits. It sounds like they are busted, however, so I’d expect the black snow problem, if it really exits, to go away for awhile.

  4. wangbo Says:

    Thanks again, Charlie. I seem to remember seeing growing piles of coal in the plant last summer. Didn’t make much sense to me, seeing how far away from the heating period we were at the time, and of course, I would assume coal would be most expensive in the summer when everybody’s draining the power supply with their aircon cranked up full bore.