China’s State Grid Corporation announced at the 2011 Smart Grid World Forum in Beijing earlier this year that it would be targeting smart grids in its energy strategy to 2020. This strategy is set to see China invest $250 billion in electric power infrastructure power upgrades over the next five years, which includes $45 billion of investment in smart grid technology. Then, as the next part of its three-stage strategy, China will invest a further $240 billion from 2016 to 2020, including another $45 billion in smart grid technology. That is a potential $90 billion injection in the country’s smart grids.
Smart grids, or those which react intelligently to users’ fluctuating requirements, thus improving efficiency, have been hailed as a revolutionary way of making large scale energy savings in countries with high electricity usage. In addition to incorporating the standard hardware such as transformers and transmission wires, smart grids also encompass sensors and a wireless interface that enable the monitoring of performance.
This huge investment in smart grids in China, a country not widely regarded as one of the leading lights in the energy efficiency revolution, is striking. However, China seems to be redesigning itself as a trailblazer in developing its smart grids, in the hope that when the rest of the world finally takes the concept more seriously, it will be in pole position to provide knowhow and technology.
China has a burgeoning electricity demand, which is anticipated to double over the next ten years and triple by 2035. It is currently heavily dependent on coal burning stations for its electricity – last year 70 percent of its power came from such facilities. In addition to simply producing more power, it also wants to use smart grid technologyto ensure that what it does produce is not fritted away through wastage.
Solar leading light
It is not just in smart grid technology that China is making progress. The country has plans to massively increase its solar power generating capacity to 10 GW by 2015 and a staggering 50 GW by 2020. China currently trails behind the US’s 2.6 GW of solar capacity, but if the country meets its targets, and if the US government reduces its solar capacity funding as is widely expected, China could easily eclipse the US as a center for solar generation in the next decade.
The Chinese have set themselves the target of producing 9.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sourcesby 2015.
Despite these lofty predictions, challenges remain in the present, as China’s State Electricity Regulatory Commission admits:
“Grid companies have invested a fairly large amount of money on inter-provincial power grids in recent years and less on intra-province networks. Some big generators could not be fully utilized because of insufficient transmission capacity to pass on high-voltage power flows.”