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Businessweek
Economics

The Future of Power Is Transcontinental, Submarine Supergrids

China wants to lead the way in creating a global energy internet.

Chinese workers on the Changji-Guquan UHVDC transmission link along the Yangtze River.

Chinese workers on the Changji-Guquan UHVDC transmission link along the Yangtze River.

Photographer: ImagineChina/Alamy

Ever since President Xi Jinping pitched the idea of a “global energy internet” to the United Nations six years ago, China’s been trying to persuade the world to build the high voltage highways that would form its backbone. That plan to wrap the planet in a web of intercontinental, made-in-Beijing power lines has gone pretty much nowhere. Yet the fortunes of so-called supergrids appear to be turning, if not on quite the spectacular, Bond-villain scale Xi first envisaged.

China has both a manufacturing and technological edge in ultra-high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission lines, and has taken a lead in proposing global technical standards and governance for them. If Xi’s plans are ever realized, those are advantages that some believe could have profound geopolitical implications, granting China power and influence similar to what the U.S. gained by shaping the global financial system after World War II.