Global Energy Interconnection: The Dawn of the Global Power Grid?

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In this episode, our panel sits down with Edmund Downie to discuss China’s vision for a Global Energy Interconnection, or 全球能源互联网 in Chinese. Downie is an energy analyst with the Analysis Group in Boston, and former Fulbright Scholar at Yunnan University in Southwest China. In past roles with Yale and the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, Downie has written extensively on South and Southeast Asia political and social issues, including for Foreign Policy magazine.

While many Western analysts are skeptical about the Global Energy Interconnection plan, and its fantastical map of a world crossed by ultra-high voltage transmission lines stretching from New Zealand to Greenland and everywhere in between, Downie takes a nuanced view: “There are many things that GEI can achieve reflecting the interests driving GEI… The key is to think of [GEIDCO, the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization] as a planning and research body that’s occupying a niche between global energy governance debates and more on-the-ground work [with countries] to figure out how they want to do their energy planning.”

Various versions of the Global Energy Interconnection world map can be found online. Here is one from a 2019 GEIDCO slide showing the 9 horizontal and 9 vertical grids proposed under the plan: https://twitter.com/damienernst1/status/1136574555995148289.

Ultra-high voltage (UHV) refers to alternating-current lines over 1,000 kV or over 800 kV for direct-current lines, under a Chinese definition. A summary of UHV development in China can be found here: https://www.caixinglobal.com/2018-11-06/china-to-speed-up-construction-of-ultrahigh-voltage-power-lines-101343605.html. A typical high-voltage transmission line in the U.S. would be 360 kV AC, and the U.S. operates a handful of high-voltage (+/- 500 kV) DC lines such as the Pacific DC Intertie, built in 1982, that connects California to the hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest.

Edmund Downie, “Sparks fly over ultra-high voltage power lines,” China Dialogue, January 29, 2018, at https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/10376-Sparks-fly-over-ultra-high-voltage-power-lines.

Edmund Downie, “China’s Vision for a Global Grid: The Politics of Global Energy Interconnection,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 3, 2019, at https://reconnectingasia.csis.org/analysis/entries/global-energy-interconnection/.

Biography of Liu Zhenya via Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Zhenya

Ned references Michael Skelly of Clean Line Energy. Here is a recent article about the company’s recent demise: Ros Davidson, “Ambitious Clean Line Energy ‘wrapping up’,” Windpower Monthly, February 1, 2019, at https://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1523646/ambitious-clean-line-energy-wrapping-up.

The scenario analysis game this time features a report from the Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science research agency. The report is P. Graham et al., “Modelling the Future Grid Forum scenarios,” CSIRO and Roam Consulting, 2013, at https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP1311347&dsid=DS3. Note that the scenarios are highly simplified and the summaries we read out are not direct quotations from the CSIRO report.

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