Investing in Clean Energy

China focuses on innovation to revolutionise its power sector

Over the past few years, China has stepped up its efforts to achieve clean energy transition. At present, renewable energy accounts for 21 per cent of the country’s electricity generation capacity, as compared to 8.8 per cent in 2014. In a span of five years, from 2014 to 2019, the share of renewable energy in the country’s generation mix has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 28 per cent. Further, over the next five years, it is estimated that another 62 GW of new renewable energy capacity will be added to the country’s capacity mix. Owing to its commitments to the Paris accord, the country has been paying considerable attention to the development of electric vehicles (EVs) and offshore wind transmission (OWT). Moreover, the country’s private players, many of them are world renowned, such as Jiangsu Zhongtian Technology Co. Ltd (ZTT) and Huadian Heavy Industries Co. Ltd (HHI), are making major efforts towards developing these markets. The improved performance of these players has reduced equipment costs for clean energy, enabling it to establish a strong foothold in the country.

China is investing heavily in new technologies to create a resilient and smart network. In order to significantly boost its grid capacity, the country’s power grid developers – State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and China Southern Power Grid (CSG) – are developing ultra-high voltage (UHV) alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) lines. It is also developing cross-border links as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which plans to restore the ancient Silk Road to promote trade and economic integration among the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa.

Bolstering offshore wind and EVs

China is emerging as one of the fastest expanding offshore wind markets in the world. As of 2019, China had 6.83 GW of installed offshore wind farm (OWF) capacity, with 2.3 GW being added in 2019 alone. Further, the country has a cumulative target to reach 10 GW by 2020. A major upcoming OWF project is the Jiangsu Rudong 800 MW (H6, H10) project, which will employ a ±400 kV flexible DC submarine cable to supply power to the grid. Several other planned OWF projects include the YangjiangShapa project (Phases II-V) with a cumulative capacity of 1,400 MW; the 300 MW Huadian Fujian FuqingHaitan Strait project; the PutianPinghai Bay project (demonstration project being funded by the New Development Bank); and the YangjiangFanshi 1 and Fanshi 2 projects (1,000 MW each).

China has been adopting various policy initiatives to promote clean energy. A key focus area in this regard has been the promotion of EVs. The country has been offering incentives such as subsidies, rebates, exemptions and tax benefits both at the national and provincial levels to incentivise consumers to purchase EVs. The government is drafting an EV development plan – New Energy Vehicle Industry Development Plan (2021-2035) – which is intended to shape the sector through 2035.

Grid expansion initiatives

China is moving towards the completion of some major transmission projects, which will enhance grid connectivity. Over the next few years, over 20 UHV AC and DC projects aggregating 17,000 km in line length will be commissioned in China. Key projects to be commissioned during 2020-25 include the 1,000 kV Weifang-Linyi- Zaozhuang-Heze-Shijiazhuang line, the Zhangbei-Xiongan line and the Mengxi- Jinzhong (Central Shanxi) line, all being developed by the SGCC, and the 800 kV DC Kunbei-Liubei-Longmen line project developed by the CSG. The country’s efforts to expand its power grid via UHV AC and DC transmission is being supported by strong cooperation from Chinese provinces. Over the past few years, Chinese grid developers have invested heavily in building a technologically sound grid infrastructure and have been delivering projects that are one of a kind in terms of various technological aspects. Recently, the Swedish-Swiss power and automation technology company ABB, in partnership with SGCC, commissioned the world’s first 1,000 kV UHV gas-insulated line (GIL), which was laid in the Sutong tunnel under the Yangtze river located in China’s Jiangsu province. A major project under way is the Kunbei-Liubei-Longmen DC project. It is expected to be the world’s first UHV, multi-terminal, hybrid DC transmission project. The CNY 24.25 billion project involves the construction of a 1,452 km long, ±800 kV power line spanning four provinces and the autonomous regions of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Guangdong.

China launched a three-year action plan (2018-20) for upgrading rural power grids, involving about 8,769 administrative villages across 210 counties. The country has been focusing on strengthening its rural network, with central and state councils being deployed to undertake its upgradation. The upgrade focuses on establishing monitoring and evaluation systems for improved grid connection to remote village areas, and ensuring enhanced rural productivity and consumption. The rural electrification demonstration projects have successfully been completed in Shouguang city (Shandong province), Anji county (Zhejiang province) and Qianjiang city (Hubei province). Since the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016-20), investment arrangements within the central budget for rural network transformation and upgrade have been prioritised for poverty-stricken areas. Rural areas in Hunan province have also attracted investments in the power grid. Cumulatively, the country has witnessed about CNY 7.46 billion worth of rural network transformation and construction tasks, which were completed in 2019. The timely upgrade of the country’s rural network would ensure a reliable power supply for the agricultural sector, which, in turn, will boost employment and output for the country.

Cross-border interconnection projects

In 2016, the SGCC, with the aim to establish a global energy interconnection (GEI), incorporated the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO). The GEI will serve as a platform for the extensive development, deployment and utilisation of clean energy globally through the building of interconnected smart grids using UHV technology. GEIDCO comprises national governments, grid operators, academic institutions, development banks and United Nations agencies to launch the global renewable energy grid.

GEIDCO released the Northeast Asia Energy Interconnection Planning Research Report in 2018 to integrate clean energy development with power grid construction. The aim of this move was to establish an energy internet in northeast Asia by developing power infrastructure to enable energy cooperation among China, South Korea, Mongolia and Japan. In 2019, the northeast Asia energy internet saw the debut of the China-South Korea power interconnection, highlighting the fast-paced progress made by the interconnection project, which has completed the pre-feasibility study stage. Energy and power cooperation via grid interconnections is also being promoted with Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

China is also planning a cross-border power link with Nepal, as part of its BRI. The 400 kV Ratmate (Nepal)-Kerung (China) transmission line will be the first power grid interconnection between Nepal and China. It would ensure energy security by facilitating power trade between Nepal and the Tibet autonomous region of China. It involves the construction of approximately 70 km of 400 kV double-circuit transmission line from the Rasuwagadhi (Nepal) border point in Rasuwa district to the new 400 kV Ratmate substation in Nuwakot district. A converter station would be constructed at Gyirong county, Tibet, for the evacuation of power to the load centres. The study to conduct load flow tests for the 400 kV line was initiated in January 2020. On operationalisation, the power line would have the capacity to transmit 5,000 MW. The transmission link between Ratmate and Kerung would be approximately 800 km long, of which 70 km would be in Nepal. The line is targeted to be completed within six years.

Pulling through Covid-19

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the country has displayed strong determination and has yet again set its focus on timely delivery of major transmission projects. In February 2020, the SGCC announced the resumption of transmission projects such as the ±800 kV UHV DC Qinghai-Henan, Yazhong-Jiangxi and Shaanxi-Wuhan lines, and other major projects with a cumulative value of CNY 100 billion.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, in June 2020, works on the CNY 22.6 billion, 1,587-km Qinghai-Henan project were completed. The project extends across four provinces, from Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in the northwest to Henan province in central China. It has a rated transmission capacity of 8 GW, with an annual transmission capacity of about 40 TWh. The Mengxi-Jinzhong UHV AC project has resumed construction and is nearing completion. The 304 km long, CNY 4.96 billion project is a key project planned under the country’s Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016-20). Once operational, it would facilitate the transmission of power to Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong in north China, thereby improving power grid reliability in the region. Furthermore, in order to revive the economy amid the pandemic, the Chinese government has set its focus on finding new growth drivers. To this end, the government has zeroed in on seven key infrastructure sectors. Referred to as “new” infrastructure, these sectors are 5G base stations, EV charging points, big data centres, artificial intelligence, industrial internet-of-things, UHV power projects, and intercity and urban rail transportation. In March 2020, the government convened a meeting to speed up the construction of this new infrastructure. It is estimated that China would witness a cumulative investment of about $205 billion in all the seven infrastructure sectors in 2020.

Outlook

The National Energy Administration (NEA) recently held a meeting for the development of the power sector plan under the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan. For the Fourteenth Plan, the NEA will focus on three key areas – the planning and construction of new power projects and promoting research to improve the power grid structure; improving the overall power efficiency and transition towards clean energy; and vigorously exploring technological innovation to revolutionise the power sector and strengthening power interconnections with neighbouring countries.

Overall, China has displayed remarkable resilience even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has set ambitious goals for developing clean energy technologies and planning “new” infrastructure is a huge leap in this direction. The move is expected to further improve the country’s infrastructure by integrating digital technologies with clean energy transmission.

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