Green news from China; pushing for the smart grid technology is one of the highest priorities for the Chinese government. So much of the development of the country as a whole depends on the success and power of the smart grid technology. Homes, businesses and industry as well as new electric cars are going to be zapping the grid big time.
Smart Grid Technology
“There is no way to get around this fact—China aims to modernize its energy infrastructure at home and dominate clean energy technology markets abroad. At the 2011 Smart Grid World Forum in Beijing late last month, China’s State Grid Corporation announced plans to invest $250 billion in electric power infrastructure upgrades over the next five years, of which $45 billion is earmarked for smart grid technologies.
According to its three-stage plan, China will invest another $240 billion between 2016 and 2020 (including another $45 billion toward smart grid technologies) to complete the build-out of a “stronger, smarter” Chinese power grid.
When complete, this system will improve energy efficiency, lower carbon emissions, and give Chinese consumers more control over their utility bills. Chinese leaders are betting that upgrading to a smarter electricity grid will also drive technology innovation and move the country up the manufacturing value chain. The Chinese view smart grid technology as the next industrial revolution—and they want to make sure that once other countries start upgrading their own grids, they will buy most of their equipment from China.
This issue brief details why the United States should take note of China’s ambitions and step up our own smart grid efforts. We, too, need a stronger, smarter electricity grid, and in many smart grid sectors, our enterprises are already producing the best technologies. All they need is a bit more policy support at home to speed up interoperability, to drive down equipment prices, and to ensure the smart grid revolution will be a market driver not only for China but also for the United States both at home and in export markets abroad.
What is a smart grid and why does China need one?
The main difference between a smart grid and a conventional grid is that smart grid components (similar to smartphones) are upgraded to include sensors, computers, and a wireless interface. That means the bits and pieces of the electric grid—the transmission wires, transformers, distribution wires, and usage meters—transmit and distribute electricity more efficiently and reliably to end users, and they can also report back on how that process is going and adjust operations along the line to fit changing conditions.
This smart functionality is critical for integrating key elements of a clean energy future, such as renewable power generation and electric vehicles. Unlike traditional coal-fired power, renewable power can be decentralized (multiple wind farms instead of one massive coal-fired power plant) and is often weather dependent. Conventional grid systems are designed to transfer a steady and predictable flow of power from point A to point B. When a thunderstorm reduces solar panel output or increases wind turbine output, those power fluctuations can trigger blackouts and burnouts in a conventional grid system. But a smarter grid can adjust, either by storing excess energy in batteries until it is needed or by moving power more efficiently across longer distances.
Smarter grids are also better at handling higher and more variable demand loads, and that will be critical when more electric vehicles are added to the system. Current consumer demand is very predictable, so utility companies know exactly what times of the day to purchase and distribute extra power to counteract daily peaks. Electric vehicles likely will not follow traditional consumption patterns—meaning demand peaks will be harder to anticipate—and that will create new operational challenges that will be hard to address without a more automated system.
The Chinese need more clean energy to meet their escalating electricity demand, and that will require a smarter grid. China is now the world’s largest electricity consumer, and Chinese demand is expected to double over the next decade, and triple by 2035. Their current energy mix is heavily dependent on coal—around 70 percent of overall consumption in 2010—and coal supply and price fluctuations are threatening economic growth. In 2011, for example, coal shortages forced China’s national economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, to begin rationing electricity in April, months ahead of the normal summer peak.
To comply with the rationing, officials in China’s power-hungry industrial regions cut off power to small enterprises from 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily and to medium-sized enterprises every few days. This forced many small- and medium-sized companies to operate only at night or to rely on pricey gas-fired power generators to keep their businesses running.
The only way Chinese leaders can keep their economy growing at current rates is to bring in more renewable energy power onto their national grids. Their latest targets call for the country to increase renewable energy to 9.5 percent of overall consumption by 2015, and a smarter electricity grid will be critical for integrating those supplies into the system.
The Chinese are also grappling with a major geographic issue. Energy supplies are concentrated in the west (including coal, natural gas, hydropower, and large wind farms), but demand is concentrated in the east, which creates major transportation challenges. China’s west-to-east grid infrastructure is already overloaded, so coal supplies are often shipped via rail and road. Problem is, transport bottlenecks are so bad that in 2010 coal trucks triggered a month-long traffic jam on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway.
To relieve congestion, the Chinese want to shift more west-to-east transport to the grid, so a large chunk of China’s upcoming grid investments (around $78 billion out of the $250 billion mentioned above) will go toward cross-country ultra-high-voltage transmission lines.
China sees the potential here for huge growth if they can update their power system to handle it all. All over the world countries are seeking new ways to reduce carbon emissions and the green news from China; pushing for the smart grid technology, suggests they will be leading the way.
Please click here to read all about China’s energy plans and how they could effect the global economy.
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