China’s huge population and rapidly growing economy means that the country’s demand for power is seeing extremely fast growth. At the same time, its historically underdeveloped power grid and strong government control over this sector mean that China has strong opportunities to leapfrog more developed countries in terms of power grid technology. China’s commitment to building out a world-class “strong and smart grid” has meant that the country’s 2013 smart grid investment was the largest in the world.
China’s Smart Grid Strategy: Heavy investment in a “strong and smart grid”
China’s current overall smart grid strategy was set out in the 12th Five-Year Plan, released in 2011, and its supplementary Special Plan for Major Smart Grid Science & Technology Industrialization Projects. This document focuses on the development of large-scale renewable energy technology, along with grid support for these technologies and smart distribution and transmission technology. This is the first specific mention of smart grids in the country’s five-year plan, but it builds on trends that have been ongoing for years or decades.
The country’s largest grid operator, State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), has led the push towards smart grid technologies. SGCC launched its “Smart Grid Umbrella Plan” in 2009, calling for a total investment of RMB 384 Bn into smart grid technologies from 2009-2020 as part of a RMB 3.45 Tn “strong and smart grid” investment. Smart meters and substations make up an overall majority of this investment, while upgrades to transmission and distribution networks, along with monitoring, communications and scheduling, make up the remainder. In comparison, smaller operator China Southern Grid (CSG) puts much less emphasis on “smart” technologies, although like State Grid it is in the process of a substantial smart meter rollout.