China’s President Xi Jinping recently welcomed 28 heads of state and government to Beijing to discuss and garner financial allies in the Belt and Road Initiative, which will likely be one of the planet’s largest ever infrastructure development projects, reviving the ancient Silk Roads and boosting connectivity between trading partners throughout Asia, the Middle East, and into Europe.
However, the One Belt One Road Initiative is not simply about roads and sea lanes, but will involve high-speed railways, bridges, and ports, as well as the potential for unprecedented electricity grid connectivity and increased renewable energy development.
Many of you by now will have heard of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative due to the recent two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that ended Monday, and welcomed 28 heads of state and government to Beijing. The Forum was only the next step in a policy direction which was originally announced by Xi Jinping back in the fall of 2013, and which has undergone several name variations since, including the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.
It would be too much to get into the entire scope of what is being proposed here. However, as can be seen in the map below, its plans are to build increased transport routes out of China, by both land and sea, down into Southeast Asia, west via the sea into the Horn of Africa, and multiple routes north and west via land into the Middle East, Europe, and Eurasia.
It is therefore unsurprising that there is currently a flood of information available explaining various aspects of the Initiative, and the role that can be played by, at last count, up to 70 different nations around the world which have signed on to be a part of what will be a massive economic achievement for China. It will be an attempt to return to the historical Silk Roads, which during their heyday were the single most important routes on the face of the planet, bringing goods and luxuries thousands of miles from one side of the planet to the other.
China is set to spend upwards of $150 billion a year in the 68 countries currently signed up to be a part of the Initiative, and is expected to total $1.3 trillion.
However, as much as this revolves around trade routes — rail and road and sea routes — the potential for significant renewable energy development is also worth mentioning. In attendance at the Forum, Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, explained that the center of this massive and ambitious Initiative is renewable energy.
“China is at the forefront of the energy revolution. Thanks to its long-term policy framework and its huge manufacturing capacity, China has become the principal market for renewable energy worldwide,” said Amin. “The Initiative can not only help to interconnect electricity grids and deploy more renewable energy, but it can also expand electricity markets to countries with extremely high renewable energy potential, including those in Central Asia. China has the technology and the resources, and it can help to achieve these goals by building partnerships and cooperation.”
Speaking to the plenary, Amin explained that focusing on electricity grid interconnectivity will be vital moving forward, especially for such a massive infrastructure project such as One Belt One Road.
“As the energy transition progresses, power grid infrastructure interconnections will be key to facilitate larger and flexible electricity markets that can integrate higher shares of variable renewable energy,” said Amin. “As much as 2,000 GW of interconnection capacity will be required by 2050 in order for enough renewables to be deployed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
“The Belt-and-Road Initiative can provide a promising platform to help meet the need for infrastructural interconnections between countries, particularly if it has greater focus on low-carbon growth and sustainable energy,” the Director-General added.