China's Grid Blames Bad Planning for Idled Renewable Energy

State Grid Corp. of China, which manages the electricity grid in the world’s most populous nation, blamed a lack of planning for congestion in its network that forced authorities to limit the amount of power renewable energy generators can sell.

China was "in shortage of short- or long-term plannings for electricity lines" to absorb the flows of electricity from clean sources, Liu Zhenya, chairman of State Grid Corp. of China, said at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. Neither the technology the grid uses nor the availability of investment funds were problems, he said.

Most of China’s wind farms are in the north and west of the nation, which have strong breezes and low electricity demand. Generators pick sites there for wind farms, hoping the grid can move power to the industrial south and east where consumption is higher. 

The lack of grid capacity has prompted renewable developers to seek markets beyond the the region, Liu said. If the power can’t be delivered outside through long-distance electricity lines, clean-energy plants will sit idle, he said.

Already, some of China’s renewable plants are idle, unable to sell their output. The rate was 15 percent for the wind turbines in China last year and reached about 31 percent for photovoltaics in the northwestern province of Gansu, according to data from National Energy Administration.

China’s solar capacity has surged almost 13-fold since 2011, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Wind installations have almost doubled since 2012 to 139 gigawatts.

Letting renewable plants continue to waste a larger portion of power is a stumbling block for the nation to fulfill its pledges to cut emissions. China is restricting local authorities to plan new wind-power projects in regions where the most turbines stand unused.

Liu said the company plans to spend 2.3 trillion yuan ($355 billion) in the next five years to expand its transmission network, a 28 percent increase over the previous period. 

State Grid has ambitions to build an ultra-high-voltage global power network to transmit electricity from country to country and continent to continent, a goal that may cost $50 trillion to develop by 2050, Liu said earlier this year.

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