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Silk Road Journey Xinjiang Ep. 2: Power line to link Pakistan

The One Belt, One Road Initiative includes massive investment in infrastructure, and part of that involves upgrading electricity transmission. In Xinjiang, a power transmission line is now planned to run all the way to Pakistan.

Xinjiang is upgrading its main power grid to boost capacity. This substation will be gone into action in June. It’s just one part of the ambitious projects for the region as a whole.

“Xinjiang’s main grid frame use to be 220kV. We’re jumping two grades to make it 750kV. It’s like a power transmission highway, compared to a village or provincial road. It’s fast and stable. It’s some of the world’s most advanced high voltage technology,” said Guo Lei, project manager of 750KV substation.

Xinjiang, in the northwest of China, has abundant natural resources for power generation. Last year, about ten percent of power generated here, 17.5 billion kilowatt-hours, was transmitted to other provinces.

Upgrading the main grid will boost that to 250 billion kilowatt-hours in 2020. And there are plans to export electricity abroad.

“The State Grid Cooperation plans to build a direct-current power line from Xinjiang to Pakistan. It will run from Ili in Xinjiang to Lahore in Pakistan, a length of 2,177 kilometres. It’s capacity will be 400 kilowatts. The State Grid has sent experts to research in the field. It’s planned to be in operation in 2020,” said Zhao Zhiqiang, planning director of State Grid Xinjiang company.

But there are major obstacles to be overcome.

“We have a serious lack of technicians who can speak a foreign language. And the line will climb through the Pamir Plateau and the Kunlun Mountains. Some parts are very high and cold, and earthquake-prone. It’ll be very hard to build and maintain. Also issues like how much and how to pay will take long negotiations,” Zhao said.

But with more connectivity of energy infrastructure planned as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, these lines are likely to stretch further across the mountains and borders.

Two thousand years ago, strong winds in Xinjiang made the journey tough for Asian and European traders trekking along the Silk Road. But now it provides something other than travel difficulties, energy. It’s now the second largest source of power in Xinjiang, and is expected to power other regions and countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt.