China crushes US in new power transmission infrastructure to carry renewable energy

Jan 24, 2019 by

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The HVDC transmission lines Square Butte (left towers) and CU (right towers) cross near Wing, ND. Combined they can carry up to 1.5 GW of electrical power from coal-fired plants in North Dakota, for about 700 km; in contrast, the new Chinese UHVDC line can carry up to 12 GW, mostly from renewable sources in Xinjiang, for 3,293 km.

We interrupt the mainstream media narrative about fake infrastructure (Trump’s border wall) with news about real infrastructure.

China’s main grid operator has powered up its biggest transmission line yet, one that “crushes world records for voltage, distance and power” according to a recent report by Peter Fairly in IEEE Spectrum. China has announced plans to use the line primarily to transmit renewable energy from wind and solar power plants in northwestern China to power-hungry cities in eastern China. In the past this renewable energy has often gone unused due to lack of transmission capacity.

The new transmission line is 3,293 km (2,046 miles) long and can carry up to 12 gigawatts (GW), enough to power 50 million households. Fairly writes:

The new 1100-kV UHVDC line absorbs the grid’s alternating current at an AC/DC converter station near the capital of Xinjiang — China’s vast northwestern territory — and sends DC power to a second converter station in Anhui province in eastern China.

“UHVDC” stands for ultra high-voltage direct-current transmission; for long distances it is more energy-efficient than more-common alternating-current (AC) transmission, and because it can transmit power between unsynchronized AC systems it can stabilize a country’s grid and allow more flexibility in power interchange.

Ironically, years ago the new UHVDC line was planned primarily to carry power from coal-fired power plants in eastern China to consumers in western China. However, renewable energy is becoming cheaper and now the line will mostly carry renewable power in the opposite direction. The line is part of a giant transmission grid being built by China’s grid operator State Grid, the second largest company in the world by revenue (behind only Walmart). Along with a million employees and a billion customers, State Grid has the financial muscle to take on a huge multiyear project to build a UHVDC network.

UHVDC power transmission can benefit any sufficiently-large country with an electrical grid. For example, India has installed the first phase of an 800-kV, 6-GW line with about half the capacity of China’s new line. In contrast, a US project to install an even smaller 600-kV, 4-GW line from Oklahoma wind farms to Memphis consumers was stalled by objections from Arkansas, and last year the the Trump administration’s Department of Energy withdrew its support for the Oklahoma–Memphis project. This is despite the fact that researchers estimated in 2016 that the US could cut electricity-sector CO₂ emissions by up to 80% without increasing the cost of electricity by installing a national HVDC network to let the country’s electrical systems share production of renewable energy.

The biggest HVDC line in the US remains the Pacific DC Intertie between the Pacific Northwest and southern California, built as a part of a public works project authorized in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and currently operating at 500 kV, 3.1 GW. The Trump administration has no plans to improve the US power grid; on the contrary, its goal is to reduce federal investment in power infrastructure, a reduction that has been blocked by Congress so far.

This content was created by a Daily Kos Community member.

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