China just decided to build a global internet to export renewable energy. Where is our vision?

The chairman of the largest utility of the second largest economy in the world just announced plans to build a global “internet of energy” to export solar power to countries all over the world.

March 22,  2016

Zhenya Liu, chairman of the State Grid Corp. of ChinaThe chairman of the largest utility of the second largest economy in the world just announced plans to build a global energy grid or “internet of energy” to export solar energy to countries all over the world. And it was announced in a speech given in the heart of U.S. oil country: Houston.

Meanwhile, here in California, we’re still arguing about whether solar customers should pay 2 or 4 cents for something called “non-bypassable charges” so utilities can properly maintain the grid. In other states, utility commissions have practically put the solar industry out of business.

If you’re not outraged, as they say, you’re not paying attention. At the least, what we seem to have here is a “failure of imagination.”

Solar power offers so much potential to solve climate change problems due to energy because the planet receives enough solar energy in one hour to power the planet for one year.*

Let’s repeat that: The earth receives more solar power in one hour than it currently uses in one year from all conventional energy sources put together. (In fact, the exact calculation is 54 minutes.)*

* The average daily power consumption of the world in 2014 was 18 Terawatts. The average daily supply of energy to Planet Earth in the form of sunshine is 174,000 Terawatts.

This means that the Earth’s sunshine earnings each day are 10,000 times more than we currently spend each day.

Just to help visualize the scale of this – 10,000 to 1 – please see the photo below which shows 10,000 pennies compared to single pennies in the foreground.

10,000 pennies

The total number of pennies is how much sunshine energy we receive on Earth every hour. One single penny in front is how much total power we now use on Earth in that same hour... a factor of 10,000 to 1.

Of course – and here’s the catch – the solar energy currently needs to be harvested and so it’s not always in the right form, in the right place and at the right time.

That’s why the Global Energy Internet is such a great idea. grid-light

Electricity moves on wire at the speed of light. That means that in one second, it can travel 186,000 miles. That’s around the world -- seven and a half times. So, time is not an issue.

The most recent high-voltage DC transmission lines (HVDC) can now move electricity thousands of miles with virtually no power loss. So, location is not an issue.

Solar modules -- needed to harvest solar energy and convert it from light into electricity -- are now ubiquitous and have come down in cost so fast that solar power is now competitive with conventionally produced electricity in most parts of the world. So, changing the form of the energy is not an issue either.

No, the barriers to solving this problem are not technical or financial; mainly, they are political. They call for more cooperation and less competition. For a bigger vision of what’s really possible.

In the Book of Proverbs (29:18), it says “Where there is no Vision, the people perish.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t take a global catastrophe -- where thousands of us perish – before we can enlarge our imaginations and envision a world that works… for everyone.