Energy & Resources

Lines of power

UHV project launches early


China’s UHV revolution

Power shortages have hurt Hunan province this winter, but policymakers hope they will become a problem of the past after the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) approved the construction of an ultra-high voltage (UHV) transmission line between it and neighbouring Jiangxi province at the end of December.

The Rmb10.47 billion ($1.62 billion) project forms part of a UHV ring in central China. WiC has written previously about China’s efforts to build a mammoth UHV grid that transmits energy from the north (abundant in coal-based power generation potential) and west (the hub of renewables generation) across the country to southern and eastern regions, where most economic activity takes place. With higher voltages of direct current, UHV networks are more efficient at transmitting power and they can carry it from any type of generation, including coal and renewables. But from the outset UHV has been controversial (see WiC108).

The government has encouraged giant firms like State Grid Corp and China Southern Power Grid to become global leaders in the UHV sector. Another new project last month demonstrated the progress, when the world’s seventh largest hydropower plant (Wudongde) began transmitting energy via the world’s first flexible UHV multi-terminal DC transmission line (Kunliulong). The line will carry 80% of the plant’s output from the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in the southwest to twin terminals in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces in the southeast.

Netizens equated China’s progress in UHV technology to its successes in creating a long-distance, high-speed rail network. However, planners still need to resolve the trade-off between capex costs and efficiency returns. Why? Many of the newer, multi-billion dollar lines transmit at about half capacity for fear of the blackouts that might result if they unexpectedly go down when running at full tilt.

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