Analysts believe China’s economy could outgrow the US by 2028. Such rapid economic growth puts a country’s energy infrastructure under the microscope. An accelerating economy ultimately means industry is expanding and new businesses starting – increasing demand for power. Over 70 per cent of China’s electricity is produced for industrial use alone.
Clearly, having sustained a growth rate averaging above 10 per cent growth 30 years, China has handled this process well. However, after a relative lull at the turn of the decade, electricity demand in the Republic is set to boom again due to resurgent industries and broader global economic recovery. Crude steel production grew 7.5 per cent last year, more than double its 2012 rate, while the automotive sector grew 18.4 per cent, almost three times faster than in 2012.
As China’s economic growth kicks back into high gear, it’s becoming increasingly important to factor its energy mix. China is by itself responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon emissions, and is beginning to tackle this challenge seriously, introducing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from 2016, which will further increase the need for highly efficient industrial growth.
To meet both its environmental and industry needs, China will need to further modernise its grid over the coming decade. With required investment in electrical infrastructure estimated at $600 billion, China needs five key elements in place to meet the energy demands of the future.
- Efficient transportation: Significant quantities of electricity are lost in transmission and distribution. Although China’s estimated six per cent loss rate is healthier than Brazil’s 16 per cent, increasing distances between generation, load centres and industrial sites will only drive this figure upwards. In a country as vast as China, improving the efficiency of power lines is critical. Introducing high voltage direct current (HVDC) will reduce electrical loses while also cutting down on infrastructural costs, due to the simpler cabling infrastructure needed.
- Electrifying industry: Industrial processes that draw huge power from the grid could prove more efficient through modernisation and on-site power generation. These will help streamline energy demands, vital to ensuring grid stability in the future. In addition, harmonic filtering can be used to ensure clean power is supplied to even the more remote industrial sites.
- Peak Load Shifting: Power consumption always peaks in summer time when each household has to turn on the air-conditioning to cool down the high temperature. This power challenge has made the government to carry out ‘peak load shifting’ strategy which require viable load plants to start and stop at a high frequency. Converters can help, as they permit the power plant to re-start very quickly, making the grid stronger and producing electricity more efficiently.
- Renewable integration: The growth of renewable energy is a major factor in the expanding distances involved with power generation and delivery. Renewable energy generation (e.g. solar fields and wind farms) often occurs in remote locations, far from the industrial sites and urban areas where the power is needed. This year China announced the world’s most ambitious renewable energy plan, aiming to achieve a staggering 200 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 – up from the current installed capacity of 75 GW. HVDC will be crucial if China is to hit its goals, while efficiently channelling the increased electricity generated to the industries demanding it. At the same time, sophisticated grid management technologies will be needed to ensure the stability of the grid with such a significant contribution from variable sources, and large investments in energy storage will be needed.
- Intelligent networks: Amid concerns over the ability of China’s regional grids to handle an expansive HVDC roll out, new technology designed to increase the resilience of large scale HVDC distribution can provide the automation needed to deliver a reliable system and reduce the risk of black outs.
It will be fascinating to watch the progress of China as it seeks to create an energy infrastructure that can keep up with the country’s industrial (and social) growth. How China fares will inevitably influence how other boom nations execute on challenges and opportunities.