Harbin Smog Crisis Highlights China’s Coal Problem
A thick layer of smog has enveloped one of China's major cities, nearly bringing it to a halt. Harbin's crisis is just the latest to spotlight the country's dependence on coal.
Harbin, also known as the Ice City, hosts an ice and snow festival every year that features displays of elaborate ice sculptures. But the city's frigid temperatures, which can reach -40ºF (-40º C) in winter, mean that residences usually need heating for six months of the year. As part of a national effort to reduce energy intensity, Harbin in 2010 spent $1.1 million to retrofit 21 million square feet (2 million square meters) of residential buildings—adding five new layers of wall insulation, as well as better windows and roofing. (See related story: "In China's Icy North, Outfitting Buildings to Save Energy.")
But building retrofits can go only so far in a country where coal fuels 70 percent of the