Power Play: China’s Ultra High Voltage Technology and Global Standards

As a matter of government policy and corporate strategy, China has been intensifying its effort to set indigenous standards for homegrown ultra-high voltage (UHV) transmission technology. The country also aims to contribute to UHV standards internationally. Indeed, this process of standard setting, influenced by both economics and politics, will have ramifications far beyond China’s borders. The potential internationalization of China’s domestic UHV standards will almost certainly affect the global market share for both Chinese manufacturers and dominant multinational companies.

Two factors are creating a window of opportunity for Chinese UHV technologies to gain international acceptance and become the de facto global standard: first, China is the only country currently deploying UHV technology on a large scale; second, no international UHV standard has yet prevailed. China’s effort to internationalize its own UHV standards, then, could yield greater global market share for Chinese UHV technologies.

In fact, China has already made some modest progress in becoming the default standard-setter for UHV projects outside its borders, in part by growing its global market share. One example is the joint development of a Sino-Brazilian UHV project. Another is the successful effort to promote three indigenous Chinese UHV AC standards as international standards of the global Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

This paper delves deeply into these developments. It explores China’s UHV standardization process and the myriad challenges it faces, from a technical, economic, and political standpoint. But beyond simply detailing China’s strategy in pushing out its own UHV technology to the domestic and international markets, the paper discusses how China’s ambition for its indigenous technology could ultimately pose a considerable challenge to global competitors who hope to sell comparable products. The paper concludes by outlining several potential scenarios for how China’s UHV standardization process, and its relationship to global standard setting, may ultimately evolve.

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