China plans to expand air quality forecasting services to cover more cities after the opening of a national website at the start of the year.

The expansion looks set to

open up a promising market for technology companies.

Luo Yi, head of the Environment Monitoring Bureau under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said services had been launched nationwide to bring air quality forecasts to the public.

The forecasts have been carried on the new website since Jan 1.

"We set up the national network for air quality forecasting in major regions, provinces and cities," Luo said, adding that provincial environmental authorities can now make air quality forecasts and upload them to the website for public access.

Residents from provinces, regions and cities, including the three major clusters - Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta-can access accurate forecasts for the next five days, and learn about possible effects on health.

The ministry plans to expand the forecasting network by encouraging more cities to develop the services.

The new network currently covers 32 cities, according to the ministry.

Technology companies involved with air pollution forecasting have welcomed the ministry's expansion plans.

Many provinces and cities such as Shanghai have set up the forecasting services through cooperation with technology companies.

Zhang Weifeng, manager of Shanghai Readearth Information Technology, which helped environmental authorities in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and other cities to set up the forecasting service platform, said, "The market will expand quickly as part of the boom in environmental protection industries."

He said more cities had sought technological support from companies since last year when the national network was completed.

According to a research report from Guotai Jun'an Securities in October, it is estimated that the scale of the market just for software development services will reach 5.8 billion yuan ($890 million).

Gong Hao, manager in charge of environmental services at Beijing SDL Technology, which has cooperated with many cities and provinces, said, "The air quality forecast market is promising, but may not reach this huge amount."

He said the largest bill so far had been for a forecasting project in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, which cost about 100 million yuan.

Zhang added that now is a good time for China's environmental technological companies.

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(China Daily USA 02/19/2016 page3)

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