China building super highway for clean power


Ucilia Wang

China likes to do things on a grand scale, which allows it serve its vast population spreading out in huge regions and brag about its technical advancements. Here comes another one: the country is now building a transmission line with a whopping 800-kilovolt of capacity that will ferry wind and solar power over 2,210 kilometers (1,373 miles).

China likes to do things on a grand scale, which allows it to serve its vast population and brag about its technical advancements. The country is now building a 800-kilovolt transmission line that will ferry wind and solar power over 2,210 kilometers (1,373 miles) and when completed in 2014 could claim a world record for its capacity of 8 GW, according to the Chinese government-run China Daily on Monday.

This isn’t the first project to use ultra high voltage direct current lines at 800 kV, which are state of the art. Both Siemens and ABB, two powerline equipment makers, previously announced projects selling their 800 kV equipment to China Southern Power Grid and State Grid Corporation of China, respectively.

ABB sold an 800 kV line to State Grid Corporation of China to complete a 2000-kilometer project in 2010 to transport 6.4 GW of hydropower from the Xiangjiaba power plant in southwestern China to Shanghai. ABB said the Shanghai project was the world’s first transmission project to use ultra high voltage direct current equipment, though Siemens has made a similar claim with a project in China.

State Grid will also build the project touted by People’s Daily on Monday. The project will run power lines from the Hami prefecture in the Xinjiang province in the west to Zhengzhou city in Henan province in central China. The equipment will rise up along regions of big solar power development, such as the Gansu and Ningxia provinces. The project will cost 23.39 billion yuan ($3.7 billion), People’s Daily reported.

The use of high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology is gaining popularity in a world dominated by electric grids that run on alternating current. HVDC equipment tends to cost more, but it also can be more efficient at transporting large volumes of electricity over long distances. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Interior said it’s cleared a hurdle for a proposed HVDC transmission project, which counts Google as an investor, to carry up to 7 GW of wind power off the East Coast. Meanwhile, Tres Amigas is planning a HVDC transmission project to connect the three major power grids of the country. Japanese conglomerate Mitsui has agreed to invest $12 million in the project. Most of the transmission lines in the U.S. run at much lower voltages than 800 kV.

China has massive goals to build and generate more renewable energy, including 15 gigawatts of cumulative solar power generation by 2015 (and it wants its domestic solar industry to help meet that goal). The country installed a few gigawatts of solar power projects in 2011, and estimates from market analysts and Chinese solar companies have varied widely, from 3 GW to 7 GW, on how much China will add in 2012. China also is the world’s largest wind energy generating country. These developments have made the country a magnet for U.S. tech companies.

China is also interested in pairing energy storage with wind and solar farms. The country completed a 36 megawatt-hour energy storage project – the world’s largest lithium-ion battery farm – last year. Battery makers such as A123 Systems, Boston-Power, and PowerGenix all have set up shop in China to target the energy storage and electric car markets. Boston-Power made the bold move of shifting a bulk of its operation to China after lining up hefty funding from Chinese investors.

Photo courtesy of Siemens