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China leading the way to a global renewable grid

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source: planet ark

Earlier this month, in Washington D. C. at one of the largest electrical engineering conferences in the world, a speaker from the State Grid Corporation of China outlined a vision for a massive global electricity grid powered by renewables.

Zhenya Liu is the Chairman of the State Grid Corporation of China and his company is the largest state-owned electric utility company in the world. Mr Liu presented a visionary proposal for a vast high voltage transmission network, the “Global Energy Internet”, sharing renewable power around the world.  Australia and other renewable rich nations would have the opportunity to become major renewable energy exporters.  He proposed this plan as not only sensible and realistic, but a moral imperative for sustainable development.

Given the traditionally conservative context of the conference, it’s a staggeringly ambitious vision that raised eyebrows.  But given the authority of the speaker, it has been given serious credibility.

China is working towards this vision in a very practical sense, constructing a vast high voltage transmission network and investing heavily in renewables.  In fact, last year China installed more renewable capacity than all other types of generation combined.  They also invested more money in renewables than any other nation, and installed more wind power and solar photovoltaic capacity than any other nation.

China has lots of reasons for investing in renewable energy.   One of the most obvious is their serious air pollution problem.  They also seek to increase demand for the renewable technologies they manufacture.  Energy security is also a major concern – a number of studies have now shown that China is perilously close to peak domestic coal production, which means they will soon become a major importer of coal if they don’t curb consumption.  They have no desire to be dependent upon a potentially volatile international fossil fuel market. But whatever their reasons, China is most definitely leading the world to a more renewable future.  Mr Liu’s presentation invited the rest of us to join them.

The global engineering community is certainly rallying to the cry.  Renewable technologies now dominate electricity sector investment in Europe, the USA and the world.  We’re seeing a fundamental shift in attitude – overwhelmingly renewables have been embraced as the new norm, and engineers at all levels are setting about the work of determining smarter ways to integrate them.  No longer fringe, renewables are being called upon to become a full participant in the system.

As others move ahead, Australia’s once vibrant renewable sector is stagnating under the perpetual policy uncertainty.  Australia is falling behind the rest of the world.  The repeal of the carbon price sends a discouraging message to potential investors, and the review of the Renewable Energy Target scheme has halted promising projects.  How much longer can we afford to wait, while the rest of the world moves on without us?

Dr Riesz is a Research Associate at the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets, at the University of New South Wales.  Her research focuses on electricity market design for renewable integration.  http://jenny.riesz.com.au/  

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  • Martin

    So let’s start by building that HVDC line between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie.

    • Keith

      and the 200 turbine wind farm on King Island with a HVDC cable to the mainland to connect with the NEM (see : http://www.taswind.com.au/ )

      ……except that such an infrastructure project isn’t a road!!

    • suthnsun

      A major one from the West to the East could be really significant. I thought from the North West to Queensland might be better to take in potential tidal flows as well as solar and also well placed to connect further West to Indonesia and beyond..
      Of course the ff industry will fight that vigorously since it would ruin their only remaining profitable supply period – evening peak.

  • colin

    But with storeage technology going the way it is, can you afford the risk? Then there is the lesson to be relearnt from Russian Natural gas and Europe

  • Rob G

    I’ve long believed that Australia should be building a future in renewable energy exports. With a close proximity to Asia and an abundance of sun in looks like a opportunity just waiting to happen.

    • wideEyedPupil

      Concentrated Solar to bio fuels could be very interesting too as an export product.

  • Peter Castaldo

    Climate change is a global issue not a nationalist issue or you get nationalist ergs. It’s a

  • michael

    just a minute, is this article trying to seriously propose a HV network around the globe?? if the networks are in their death spiral (put forward constantly by experts on these articles), how is making that network larger the answer? it is not the source of power, but the cost of infrastructure within the network causing the problems. at best, renewables are drawing level on a produced cost basis, so how they make a global network any more possible is staggering logic.

    • michael

      but i’m sure Mr Liu would love to own it!

    • wideEyedPupil

      Transmission and distribution networks are not the same thing. Placing renewable energy generation in remote locations hundreds of miles away from existing transmission requires new transmission. For extremely long distances (thousands of kilometres HVDC transmission makes sense). HVDC is less practical for take-off points but suited to long point to point transmission. BZE made the argument for HVDC links in the ZCA Stationary Energy Plan while UNSW response was to argue against the need (and expense) of crossing Australia’s vast EW distances with it.

      We need to get to 100% renewables and negative net GHG emissions ASAP. The climate is already dangerous and moving into very dangerous. There is a ten year lag on emissions to climate state.

  • They were inspired by our work on the Global Grid 😉 Here is the link to the original Global Grid paper http://orbi.ulg.ac.be/bitstream/2268/144423/1/Global_Grid_RENE_final.pdf