Growth in the mainland's demand for power is expected to accelerate markedly this year, thanks to faster economic expansion and a revival in industrial production. Growth in electricity demand slowed to between 5 per cent and 6 per cent in 2008 and last year as the mainland economy slowed down amid the global recession. Electricity demand will grow between 6 per cent and 12 per cent this year, according to eight brokerage analysts polled by the South China Morning Post. Last year's growth was 5.96 per cent, the National Energy Administration said yesterday. This compares with 5.2 per cent in 2008, 14.4 per cent in 2007 and 20.3 per cent in 2006. Year-on-year growth in monthly power demand started to fall from April 2008 and slipped into negative territory in October that year, when the global financial crisis set in. After bottoming in December, it turned positive in June last year. Demand returned to double-digit percentage growth in September and surged to 27 per cent in November as Beijing's economic stimulus measures took effect throughout the economy. While overall growth in power demand last year was similar to 2008, the agricultural sector's demand growth rose to 7.9 per cent from 1.9 per cent the previous year, and that of the services sector climbed to 12.1 per cent from 9.7 per cent. Demand from the industrial sector, which made up 85 per cent of total power demand, grew 4.2 per cent, against 3.8 per cent in 2008. With demand expected to pick up this year and addition of new operating capacity to slow, analysts estimate power plant utilisation hours will grow between 2 per cent and 5 per cent, against declines of 6 per cent last year, 7 per cent in 2008 and 4 per cent in 2007. The industry commissioned 81.5 gigawatts of new plants last year, raising the year-end total to 874.07 GW, up 10.2 per cent year on year. Pierre Lau, the head of regional utilities research at Citigroup, says in a research report utilisation of coal-fired power plants is expected to see growth for the first time since 2004. He forecasts that national power generating capacity will grow 7 per cent this year, while Michael Tong, Deutsche Bank's head of regional utilities research, predicts an increase of 7.8 per cent. Tong expects mainland power generators to suffer from a further profit margin squeeze this year because of an estimated 5 per cent rise in coal prices and a lack of power tariff increases amid inflation concerns. Meanwhile, the energy agency said power plant investments grew 8.9 per cent last year to 371.13 billion yuan (HK$421.5 billion), while power grids surged 32.9 per cent to 384.71 billion yuan. It is the first time in many years that grid investment exceeded power plant investment, which could help correct problems caused by under-investment in grids.