But temporary shortages across the country are still likely China's energy crunch is expected to ease this year although regional and temporary shortages will persist, an industry official says. China Electricity Council secretary-general Wang Yonggan told a forum in Beijing on Saturday the country's power-generating capacity would be at a record high this year, Xinhua reported. Mr Wang said new generators would be built to churn out an additional 75 million kW this year. This represented the largest investment in power generating in a single year and would be a determining factor in the country's power supply next year, the agency's report said. But relief would only come in the second half of the year, when most generators would be ready, Mr Wang said. A report by China News Service quoted Mr Wang as saying the power situation had improved a lot last year. The number of provinces experiencing power shortages dropped from 26 at the beginning of last year to seven by the end, according to Mr Wang. 'China's power supply has been increasing rapidly. The stock of power generators has exceeded 500 million kW in 2005. The volume of power generation has increased by 66.02 million kW. This has greatly eased China's power crunch,' he was quoted by the China News Service as saying. Mr Wang added that supply from hydroelectricity surged by nearly 20 per cent, reaching the highest levels since economic reforms began more than 20 years ago. The council predicted that the most severe crunch would hit in the first quarter of this year, especially in the south and central areas of the county, with a shortfall of 8 million to 10 million kW, according to Xinhua. The report attributed seasonal drought as a major reason behind the temporary shortage. Power shortages were also expected to occur in the third quarter, especially in the eastern and northern regions, with a shortfall of 5 to 7 million kW. The report said power consumption was expected to increase by around 12 per cent, from 2.46 trillion kWh last year to 2.75 trillion kWh this year. Energy consumed by the non-ferrous metal industry is expected to increase by 14.8 per cent, that of the steel industry 11.4 per cent, and the chemical industry by 9.4 per cent, according to the report. Power usage by urban residents would increase 16.19 per cent year on year to 283.3 billion kWh, according to the China News Service. The power crunch has been plaguing China's economy, with scheduled brownouts forcing factories in many cities to shut temporarily. Hotels in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai were also subjected to power rationing in the past few years.