TODAY’S STUDY: The EU-China New Energy Connection
A China-EU electricity transmission link; Assessment of potential connecting countries and routes
Ardelean M., Minnebo P., March 2018 (European Commission Joint Research Centre)
In their vast majority the national power transmission and distribution networks operate with alternating current but the latest developments in direct current technology make this technology the best option for large quantities of electricity transmitted over long distances. The proof stands in the increasing number of such installation across the world (almost 200). China is by far the largest market for high voltage direct current (HVDC) equipment and systems and it holds the complete solution from designing to manufacturing and installing such systems. Nevertheless, the most innovative companies are Europe-based.
China has launched in 2016 the idea of transmitting electricity as far as Germany via an UHVDC link. This purpose falls under a more comprehensive initiative called “Belt and Road Initiative”, which has the ambition to export industrial overcapacity and engineering expertise as it faces slowing growth at home.
Central Asia is a realm with rich potential in renewable energy sources (RES), mainly wind and solar (but also hydro) which can yield large quantities of “clean” electricity. China intends to exploit its RES from north-eastern regions both for domestic use and for export. The country has the capabilities to project and build long and powerful systems to transmit electricity across the country for thousands of kilometres.
Three route scenarios are considered and analysed, all starting in rich in RES areas in western China and heading towards Europe on three different paths. Each of the routes displays advantages and drawbacks. The north route is the shortest one and crosses the lowest number of countries. It is entirely on land and has no major natural barriers. It crosses parts of Russia and eastern Ukraine. The middle route is longer than the previous one and crosses a larger number of countries but with richer potential of RES. It also involves crossing two sea bodies. The third route, the southern one, is the longest and crosses the larger number of states. It is entirely on land and crosses several rougher natural environments like mountains, high plateaus and deserts, as well as few conflict areas.
The DC technology is present in several countries (China, India) with notable contributions, generally the area lack this type of infrastructure. The same goes for DC technology knowledge and experience.
Although the technology is mature enough for such a project to be built, the scope and benefit share must be still envisaged. The multi-terminal configuration would be the best solution to be adopted but more trials are needed in order to prove their robustness.
The investment cost varies largely according to the route chosen. The length and number of countries crossed (which give the number of converter stations needed) are the variables that influence the cost the most. The cost for such an infrastructure spans from €15-16 billion in the case of the shortest one and with the lowest number of countries crossed to €23-28 billion for the longer ones, crossing more countries and implying the use of submarine power cables.
China has launched in 2016 the idea of transmitting electricity towards Central Asian countries but also as far as Germany via an UHVDC link. This purpose falls under a more comprehensive initiative called “One belt, one road” – OBOR, launched in 2013, now called “Belt and Road Initiative”, which has the ambition to export industrial overcapacity and engineering expertise as it faces slowing growth at home. On both routes the initiative is westward oriented intended to valorise the Central Asian continental realm.
This relies on the rich energy resources in western China to be harnessed and shipped along as rough fuel (gas, oil) through pipelines or as electricity to be marketed on higher-priced markets overseas. The continental part of initiative looks at the Central Asian countries as the main beneficiaries and conveyers or the trade but it also targets the markets in India, Pakistan and Myanmar. Both branches ensure large populated swaths of Asian continent are faced with increased interaction supposedly bringing welfare.
Although not specifically mentioned the electricity trade as a derivate form of energy along this route could become an important merchandise in the economies of the countries crossed. The countries in Central Asia hold significant RES resources but also produce an ever increasing electrical load. A power interconnection running form China towards Europe linking these countries could foster economic cooperation and make a better use of the resources and generating capacity.
We try to assess in the following pages the issues related to such a power interconnection…
…History of high voltage direct current installations and technological progress…Present installations and stage of development…Modern trends in HVDC technology…HVDC Technology…Convertors…Components…Types of converters…Multi-terminal DC systems…DC vs AC…Technical performances…Reliability…Failures and protection measures…Cost…Parallel use of AC and DC…HVDC equipment manufacturers…HVDC interconnection operators…The cost of HVDC infrastructure…Central Asian countries…Afghanistan…Azerbaijan…China…Georgia…India…Iran…Kazakhstan…Kyrgyzstan…Mongolia…Myanmar…Pakistan…Tajikistan…Turkmenistan…Uzbekistan…Black Sea...Caspian Sea…China-Europe HVDC link…Benefits...Drawbacks…RES potential and installed capacities…Wind potential and installed capacities…Solar potential and installed capacities…North-east China…Possible routes…Scenario 1 – North route...Scenario 2 – Middle route…Scenario 3 – South route…DC infrastructure in target countries …DC technology experience in target countries…Geopolitical issues…Environmental conditions…Estimated cost…List of HVDC interconnections…Load profile scenarios…Potential routes scenarios’ profiles…Conflicts areas in Central Asia...