Just imagine if we were only now building our first electric infrastructure. Of course that would mean that we’d be decades behind our other modern counterparts. But it would also mean that we’d be in a position to build it using the very latest and best technology. That is exactly the position China is in today. And thanks to its thriving export business, it has the means to do it right. This is a good thing, since bringing so many people up to a modern standard will bankrupt the planet unless truly significant innovations are made at every step along the way to ensure the highest possible efficiency.
China is preparing to invest $7.3 billion this coming year in smart grid technology, edging out the $7.2 billion in U.S. investments (Source: Zpryme). In fact, China is now spending more on its smart grid than it is on power generation.
The term smart grid refers to the application of various digital technologies to, among other things, modernize and automate transmission and distribution assets to anticipate and respond to system disturbances, enable greater use of variable energy sources–including renewable energy–and provide needed information and capability for customers to control their energy consumption effectively.
The State Grid Corporation of China, which is responsible for 80 percent of China’s power has announced plans to have its smart grid operational by 2020.
According to energy consultant Ryan Hodum, it “will be critical to develop a ‘clean energy backbone’ across China to deliver electrons derived from clean and efficient sources,” the Chinese government also “need[s] to focus on rural electrification so that the country not only develops a Smart Grid but…also raises the level of access to energy.”
The smart grid, with its ability to switch automatically from multiple sources, will be a key enabler for the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, which are not always consistently available. Indeed, private firms and provincial governments across northern and eastern China are already commissioning several 10-gigawatt (GW) wind and solar generation bases. About 15 percent of China’s estimated 4200 GW of generation will be from renewables by 2020.
Renewable targets are as follows:
• Hydro 350 GW *1 gigawatt (GW) = 1 million kW
• Wind 150 GW
• Solar 20 GW
• Biomass 30 GW
• Nuclear 80 GW
The remaining 3570 GW will come from fossil fuels.
State Grid is already operating a 400 mile-long pilot mega-Volt transmission line. It plans to install 11,000 miles of these lines by 2012. These ultra-high voltage (UHV) transmission lines will help reduce losses as power is transmitted across vast distances.
Although the UHV power line pilot was developed entirely in China, there are plans to open up the full smart grid development to outside companies. This news was not lost on US companies. GE recently announced a joint effort with the city of Yangzhou that will showcase smart grid technology. Mark Norbom, chief executive of GE’s China business, says GE hopes to show Chinese officials how its technology can “help build a world-class model of reliability and efficiency at just about every point in the transmission, distribution and consumption processes.”
Other companies said to be buying into China’s smart grid boom include: Cisco, Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, ABB, Westinghouse, and Oracle.