China Rolls Out Proposal for Worldwide Grid

A proposal put forth by China—and one that it says has received “positive responses” and substantial backing from international groups, including the United Nations—foresees a global smart ultra-high-voltage (UHV) grid that transmits only “clean energy.”

The Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) outlined by State Grid Corp. Chairman Zhenya Liu on February 25 at the IHS CERAWeek event in Houston is the world’s best hope to meet global energy demand with clean alternatives, he said. The proposal is both a blueprint for the development of low-carbon power and a roadmap “for combating climate change,” Liu said.

“GEI is recognized as the trend of future energy development and a fundamental, systematic solution to facilitate world energy transition,” he told attendees at the event, whose theme this year is “Energy Transition: Strategies for a New World.”

A New Inter-Net

The GEI essentially comprises three main components: an intercontinental backbone network of transmission and distribution grids; large energy bases in the North Pole, on the equator, and on each continent that can integrate distributed generation and renewable power sources; and a smart “comprehensive” platform that enables resource allocation and market trade.

The GEI could alleviate the world’s most critical energy concerns, among them energy shortages made worse by soaring energy demand, he argued. “In 2014, the global consumption of coal, oil and natural gas reached 8.2 billion tons, 33.6 billion barrels and 3.5 trillion cubic meters respectively, which can sustain [the world] for 110, 53 and 54 years if the current exploration intensity still maintains,” Liu said.

The initiative could also address environmental pollution and address climate change. “In order to achieve the target agreed at COP21 that aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃, it is imperative to realize world energy transition,” Liu declared.

It will also have the effect of realizing clean energy development, drive economic growth, and curb international disputes for resources and narrow regional gaps.

“Eventually, our world will turn into a peaceful and harmonious global village, a community of common destiny for all mankind with sufficient energy, blue skies and green land,” Liu said.

The transition will entail three phases. First, from now until 2020, the State Grid will promote the interconnection of national grids in various countries. That will require “promoting consensus,” conducting technical research, building smart grids, and accelerating the deployment of renewables.

Over the following 10 years, until 2030—Phase 2—countries within a continent will connect their grids and develop “clean energy” bases. In Phase 3, which runs from 2030 to 2050, those transcontinental grids will be linked via UHV “backbone” grids. This last phase will also see the completion (with development beginning sometime in the second phase) of 3,000 TW of wind power in the Arctic region and 9,000 TW of solar power in the equatorial regions.

A State Grid document concedes that the feat is no easy task. “The construction of global energy interconnection is a gigantic and systematic project. It needs cooperation among international organizations, governments, utilities, industrial associations, and scientific research and educational institutes,” it says.

It also notes that the initiative will require an unprecedented technology overhaul, including innovations in power, grid, and storage technologies. And, it will require strengthened standardization, “reinforced superior design,” and a “coordination development mechanism.”

The GEI is focused on electricity network interconnection, mainly because of breakthroughs in interconnection technologies.

The Cost and Control Conundrum

Meanwhile, management of the grid wouldn’t be a central priority, Liu told POWER in an interview translated by Mengrong Cheng,  who is president of the State Grid U.S. Representative Office. “The global IT network has been fully interconnected, but no one controls others,” he said. “Everyone just follows international rules and operation code.”

Liu also affirmed that standardization of grid operations would be involved, including “technical standards, operation standards, and operation codes.”

Asked for his thoughts on how governments would pay for their portions of the GEI, the chairman said it was important to note that every human being had a right to an electricity network. “What we are doing now is not adding an additional burden to the customers, but on the other hand, we are providing a solution to bring a benefit and provide a more efficient way of consumption to the end users.” Significantly, the GEI network should be a “common commodity, which needs no return,” he said.

However, he underscored that the initiative could be designed so that investors could see hefty returns. “In Germany, for example, the average tariff is 25 [Euro] cents/kWh. If we can have an interconnection between Asian countries and the Far West part of China to Europe, to Germany … the cost of [putting up] clean energy in Central Asian countries and the Far West part of China makes sense. Transmission costs are about 4 cents and the landing tariff through long-distance transmission to Germany [would be] about 12 cents. That means an increase of one half of the profit margin to the private investors or government agents who may have an investment.”

Meanwhile, the GEI can also take full advantage of time zones, he noted. “Take China and the U.S. for example, which are in different time zones. When the U.S. is still sleeping, it is peak load in China,” he said.

Far-Fetched?

In a press briefing after his presentation at IHS CERAWeek later on Thursday, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Norman Bay was asked about a discussion he had had with State Grid Corp. of China Chairman Zhenya Liu. The People’s Daily (China) reporter asked if they had discussed any potential cooperation between Chinese and U.S. governments on the GEI.

Bay responded, “It’s a big idea, a bold idea, and visionary,” but creating that kind of arrangement would be beyond the authority of FERC, he added. The two men did, however, discuss the possibility of entering some sort of memorandum of understanding, as FERC has in other cases.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel). Gail Reitenbach, PhD, editor contributed to this story (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)