Lessons from China’s Effort to Bring Electricity to 1.4 Billion People

Creative Commons/Kelapstick

China has successfully achieved full electrification for its population of 1.4 billion, reaching even the remotest villages. China’s success has significant lessons for many countries who are struggling to connect remote or poor areas.

China’s journey towards full electrification has been gruelling, and dealing with rural electrification was done in two stages. In the first stage, electricity was provided to 97% population by late 1990s. China made noteworthy advance in modernising rural grids which facilitated in bringing electricity to the final 3%. It was in 2012 when the central government issued ‘Electricity for all 2013-2015,’ a three-year action plan which helped China achieve full electrification in 2015.

Lessons from China’s electrification efforts

1) China’s central government provided policy leadership and investment with extensive local coordination. The central government’s role was indispensable in the context of reliable funding.

Provincial governments coordinated the project implementation and the central government extended cost-sharing schemes like allocating 24.8 billion yuan (US$4 billion) between 2103-15 for grid extensions and small off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

2) It is reported that the final round of electrification was divided 50/50 between grid extension and off-grid solar PV. It was factors like terrain and distance to the substation, which were studied with trials costing around 100,000 yuan (US$16,000). Solar PV at 0.3-0.4kW was the cheapest option available with costs around 7,500-11,200 yuan (US$1,200-1,800).

Whilst connecting to the remotest households there were major trade-offs between power quality and level of supply and cost. The government re-housed people to more hospitable terrains in the areas that were difficult to serve any system.

3) The poverty eradication strategy of China included electrification. The rural economic growth is facilitated by electrification, justifying further investment in rural electrification.

China’s experience has reinforced key lessons assuring sustainable electrification.

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