Chinese standardization in Smart Grids: a European perspective

The Smart Grid technology will prove essential in meeting the European Commission’s EU2020 objectives (cutting greenhouse gases and energy consumption by 20%, meeting 20% of the EU’s energy needs through renewable resources) (see here). Similarly, the PRC considers Smart Grids as being instrumental in substantially lowering energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions [1], as shown again in the recently promulgated Chinese Government’s12th Five-Year Plan.

The Chinese authorities are developing the technology first and foremost as a national grid integrating the needs of the current national energy policies, so as to reduce the massive energy losses and under-optimal energy uses hampering the Chinese economy [2]. Whilst it does not revolve around end-user needs, the grid is foreseen to be sufficiently smart to allow integration of “smart cities” concepts in the near future.

A stunning total of €450 billion is to be invested in the construction of the Chinese national grid until 2020 when the grid will reach expected completion, incorporating thermal energy, nuclear, renewable energy, electrical vehicles batteries and more. The proportion of clean energy generated is expected to rise from 6.8% in 2005 to 11.1% in 2015. Such planning at policy level necessarily entails considerable standardization efforts; and indeed, planned standardization for Smart Grid in China currently includes 92 standard series comprising more than 700 standards (many of which are already under development).

This standardization plan follows three stages. The first stage, completed in 2010, was dedicated to achieving a preliminary standards framework through pilot projects. The second stage kick-started early 2011 and now focuses on creating national standards whenever needed to complement the existing international standardization landscape.  The third and final stage (2016 – 2020) unambiguously aims at establishing the Chinese grid standards as the internationally recognized references. We have already seen some of the deliverables of Chinese standardization in this field as proposals for international standardization at IEC.

China’s Smart Grid policy, the 12th Five-Year Plan, standards, and the future grid development are all closely related to the activities of a single state-owned company, SGCC– the State Grid Corporation of China . From 2011-2015, the SGCC will implement its “One Ultra, Four Large” strategy as basis for the Smart Grid in China. Developing an Ultra-High Voltage (UHV) transmission network (“one ultra”) brings basic guarantee for the sustained and intensive development of large coal-fired power, hydropower, nuclear power and large renewable energy (“four large”). Meanwhile, the only other grid company in China, the China Southern Power Grid Company (, has started to build China’s first Ultra High Voltage network – installed UHV power lines already exceed a 1000 kilometers.

Many different standard development bodies are involved in the development of Smart Grid standards in China. Whilst the leading role is undoubtedly with the SGCC and its affiliated organizations – namely the China Electric Power Research Institute CEPRI – numerous other players are involved. In order to coordinate their efforts, the National Energy Administration of China NEA announced in October 2010 the creation of the “National Smart Grid Standardization Overall Promotion Working Group”, hosted by CEPRI. This initiative includes three sub-working groups on standardization, grid equipment, and international cooperation. Other major Chinese players involved in the smart grids standardization efforts include the China Electronic Standardization Institute CESI, the Instrumentation Technology and Economy Institute of China ITEI, and the China Communication Standards Association CCSA.

Meanwhile, standardization in Smart Grids is also gaining momentum in the EU: A “Focus Group” for Smart Grid Standards was also set up, bringing together CEN-CENELEC and their national members, ETSI, European stakeholders associations as well as observers from the European Commission, EFTA, ISO and IEC. Based on the result of this focus group – to be published these days – a mandate on Smart Grid standards to CEN, CENELEC, ETSI has been promulgated just about a month ago. This follows a standardization mandate on Smart Metering to CEN, CENELEC and ETSI in March 2009 (

One may nevertheless feel that the EU is lagging behind China’s overwhelming speed and investment in making standards and implementing them nationally before promoting them to become successfully global. Ready access to cost-competitive equipment will allow China’s utilities to build their infrastructure/ faster than anywhere else. Furthermore, integrated ownership of both utilities and transmission systems enables China to drive unparalleled consistency of standards adopted nationwide very fast.[3]

Investment plans for the UHV-based National Grid leave little space for deviation from the pre-defined targets. Strain and pressure on Chinese resources to make this standardization work happen could certainly have an impact on the quality of the work, as well as on the willingness of Chinese experts to compromise. Yet whilst China insists time and again that international and global coordination and harmonization of standards has top priority in their standardization work, we witness here the physical limitations of such cooperation: there is very limited time left for major international cooperation efforts.

In areas where international standards exist, or where major standardization work is ongoing in Europe and with other trading partners, it is very likely that China will adopt such standards. However, in areas where the standardization work is in the early stages, we will have to accept that China moves ahead and develops its own standards, which have a good chance to become international thanks to China’s globally leading level of investment.

China is moving very fast in the area of Smart Grids, at a speed which is not comparable to the developments in Europe. In order not to broaden the gap, Europe would benefit in sending more standard experts to China and increasing the exchange of information, expertise and cooperation. Furthermore, while China is showing tremendous initiative on the development of their national grid and related standards, Europe seems to be focusing its standardization efforts more on the “smart” side of the grid and on solutions geared towards the end-user, in which China is still mostly absent: smart home, smart metering, demand side management, and more. These different areas of focus allow us to expect some space for global complementarities between EU and Chinese grids standards.

– Klaus Ziegler, Seconded European Standardization Expert in China

About the SESEC project:

The project – Seconded European Standardization Expert for China (SESEC) – aims to enhance the visibility of European standardization activities, increase cooperation between standardization bodies in Europe and China, and support European industries with standardization related problems of market access to China. It is jointly owned and operated by the three European standardization organizations, namely: European Committee for Standardization (CEN), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), as well as supported and co-sponsored by the European Commission ( and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). For more information, please visit


[1] China intends to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuels in total energy use from 9% in 2009 to 15% by 2020. It also aims at cutting down carbon intensity pr unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020. By making huge investments in energy industry, China aims at increasing it’s industry’s competitiveness in order to make China a leading exporter of green technologies and products.

[2] China’s main goal in its Smart Grid strategy is to replace coal trucks with ultra-high voltage transmission technology in bringing the energy from Western and Central provinces to the East and South coast. China needs smart solutions to create an effective energy distribution system, thus ensuring more stable and sustainable economic development in the country.

[3] David Xu, Michael Wang, Claudia Wu and Kevin Chan “Evolution of the Smart Grid in China”, McKinsey & Company, Summer 2010,