The “Internet” of Energy

Building one global grid with electricity superhighways

By Gabriela Ehrlich

On 30 and 31 March 2016, the first International Conference on Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) took place in Beijing, China. The event was initiated by State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Edison Institute and Caring for Climate (C4C), and co-organized among others with the IEC. Dr Shu, IEC Vice President and President of SGCC, and Frans Vreeswijk, IEC General Secretary & CEO, both presented how such a vision can be brought to reality, to an audience of more than 500 people.

Workers installing electrical overhead lines
Global energy interconnection (GEI) envisions energy integration at the global scale

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held on 26 September 2015, China’s President, Xi Jinping, proposed the establishment of a global energy network to facilitate efforts to meet the global power demand with clean and green alternatives.

Electricity consumption will double

According to the OECD, by 2040, developing countries will use double the electricity developed countries use today.  Electricity is central for food production, poverty reduction, better healthcare and overall economic development. However, one in five people still lacks access to modern electricity. Three billion people rely on wood, coal or animal waste for cooking and heating.

Fossil fuels still preferred

The current and projected large-scale development and use of fossil fuels for energy generation in developing countries results in serious problems. Those include a heavy financial burden, environmental pollution and climate change, all of which negatively impact often weak economies.  The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for 56,6% of greenhouse gases and 73,8% of total CO2 emissions.

Limited reserves

Fossil fuel reserves are limited. According to statistics, at present rates of consumption, coal reserves will last 113 years, oil 53 years and natural gas 55 years. For oil, some estimates are as low as 25 years.

Clean energy for all

With this backdrop in mind, it becomes clear how important this vision for global energy interconnection really is. GEI opens up an unprecedented opportunity to globally share the resources of the whole planet and achieve a greener, more sustainable future. It could guarantee the effective exploitation of clean energy to ensure a reliable energy supply for everybody, anywhere in the world. 

Always on

Sun, wind and ocean power offer immense power reserves, many times more than we will ever need. The vision of GEI pictures that all power grids would be linked. Rather than balancing a power grid at the local level, energy integration could be coordinated at the global scale: the sun shines 24/7 and wind always blows somewhere. By interconnecting grids, renewable energy could be used as a primary energy source. Electricity could be consumed immediately for electric vehicles, electric heating and cooling, replacing coal and oil in most applications.

Huge complexity

GEI comes with an augmented set of challenges; it is technically highly complex. International Standards will be indispensable to pre-address this complexity and provide the building blocks that innately contain solutions that will enable this vision.

The need to build confidence

In GEI infrastructures will be highly interdependent. To give nations the confidence to consider the opportunities, GEI offers require a standard way of designing and building the many infrastructure layers that will have to interact. 

Dependability will be key

While dependability is to be expected as a basic characteristic of all energy infrastructures, GEI will require a level never seen before. This level will have to result from explicit decisions regarding overall availability– the number of 9s to be achieved - and directly embedded into infrastructure design, from the start. Measuring it after the fact or adding it later will not be an option. International Standards will play a crucial role in mastering this level of dependability upfront.

System of many systems

GEI will probably become the most complex system ever built.

It will further elevate the concept of “systems of systems”. The good news: it will fully benefit from the unique and unprecedented systems approach that was pioneered in the IEC; an approach that aims to combine the global expertise of many experts from many standards organizations.

World map for global energy network At the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, China's President Xi Jinping proposed the establishment of a global energy network
Pot cooking on fire Three billion people still rely on wood, coal or animal waste for cooking and heating
Workers installing electrical overhead lines Global energy interconnection (GEI) envisions energy integration at the global scale
Standby button Standby power consumption is an important energy-efficiency issue