The proposed initiative will allow the provision of clean energy on a global scale by 2050.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

The Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) initiative, originally developed by Liu Zhenya, the chairman of the Chinese State Grid Corporation, is dedicated to promoting global energy interconnections in a sustainable manner.

The GEI is proposed to take the form of a backbone grid, first throughout Asia and then expanding globally. The first phase would consist of six ultra-high voltage grids that span the Asian continent, which GEI estimates will require a US$38 trillion investment.[1]

The GEI is part of the broader Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a Chinese state-backed program that intends to boost trade and economic growth across Asia through the development of infrastructure projects. China Development Bank, China’s primary policy-based lending institution, has already granted US$160 billion in loans to countries involved in the BRI process.

The GEI is the first major BRI proposal that has come to fruition, and now has backing from various international energy corporations and infrastructure manufacturers, including the Korea Electric Power Company, the Chinese State Grid Corporation, and PSJC Rosseti.

Historically, the idea of a global “supergrid” was first proposed by the renowned 20th century inventor, Buckminster Fuller. Fuller was an advocate of building a global energy grid that would allow energy resources to be distributed around the world. Various proposals for a supergrid were discussed by the United States and also by the former Soviet Union, but none proceeded beyond the conceptual phase. The GEI, however, appears to be a far more comprehensive attempt to realise the concept of a supergrid.

The supergrid concept faces a number of significant technological, political, and economic challenges. However, China is well-placed to lead this initiative, as the country already possesses a number of advanced technologies to put the GEI scheme into practice. Chinese capabilities in this area include: high-voltage electricity transmission, hydro-electric engineering, and other renewable energy sources. The provision of such methods of energy generation would allow clean power globally and could significantly reduce energy tariffs for different nations. The GEI reportedly has the potential to reach 720 gigawatts of transboundary power by 2050, which represents a significant portion of the energy needs of a developing country. Accordingly, the development of the GEI merits global attention.

Latham will continue to monitor the progress of the GEI.

This blog was prepared with the assistance of Olivia Featherstone in the London office of Latham & Watkins.