The month of May this year is going to be remembered for many historic events. On 9th May, Mercury was gently gliding along the universe and passed directly between the Earth and sun, a rare celestial event. Almost as a result of the effects of Mercury, there was turmoil in the boardrooms of the meeting of the OPEC, when Saudi Arabia decided to ditch its long standing practice of controlling production to keep oil prices high. The well oiled machine that OPEC once was seems to be creaking. Saudis want to produce more oil, gain market share and earn money, which sounds like a scramble to gather up the last oil coins that have fallen out of the global purse.
“The Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones. It ended because it was time for a re-think about how we live”, said William McDonough. This is what the Saudis are worried about. The world is rethinking and beginning to realise that renewable energy is the way forward for the world that is hungry for electricity, and getting weary of extreme climate events caused by global warming.
Critics of renewable energy are still dismissive of renewable energy, citing problems related to consistent supply, unpreparedness of ageing grids to receive renewable energy, transmission challenges, etc. They contend that renewable energy is great for small local geographies, but not for country and region-wide deployment. They now have to eat their hats and swallow their words, as along comes a steaming bowl of delicious Chinese news that they would love to gobble up.
While the Saudis plan the Jeddah Tower which will be the world's tallest building, to prop up the sagging morale in their economy, the Chinese are planning a global energy grid…yes, you read this right, a global energy grid!
The idea is simple. There are places in the planet where nature is bountiful - the equatorial areas for sunlight, the North Pole for wind. Harness nature's bounty from these areas and distribute this electricity around the world. Simple! According to Liu Zhenya, Chairman of the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), the world's largest power company, “We have the capacity to enable much greater use of renewable energy by interconnecting the world's energy grids.” SGCC serves more than 1.1 billion Chinese consumers and operates energy grids in the Philippines, Brazil, Portugal, Australia and Italy.
This dream energy grid from Liu Zhenya is not science fiction. China has a lot of experience developing very sophisticated grid systems out of necessity because the raw materials for its energy production are spread out across the country. Its main coal deposits are in the north, its main wind potential in the far west and its nuclear plants are on the coast, so it had to develop and interconnect its grids.
By 2015, SGCC had invested $75.5 billion to extend what is called an ultra high voltage (UHV) grid to 40,000 km. By 2020, the capacity of the UHV network is expected to be some 300-400 GW, which will function as the backbone of the whole system, connecting six regional clusters. By 2020 UHV transmission lines are expected to increase to 1.6 million circuit kilometres.
While there are many complications to this idea of a global energy grid besides the $50+ Trillion price tag, the biggest challenge will be to get nations around the world to accept the idea of as lines crisscrossing their countries. But it will serve the countries well to remember that if renewable generation grows at an annual growth rate of 12.4 per cent over the world, then by 2050 renewable energy share will increase to 80 per cent of total consumption, realizing clean energy dreams forever and completely solving the damage caused by fossil fuels.
While we leave the Saudis and OPEC to deal with their declining oil woes, I am dreaming a Chinese dream, of a global village interconnected with clean energy. Let us all dream with Liu.