Ever since President Xi Jinping pitched the idea of a “global energy internet” to the United Nations six years ago, China has been trying to persuade the world to build the high voltage highways that would form its backbone. That plan to wrap the planet in a web of intercontinental, madein-Beijing power lines has gone pretty much nowhere. Yet, the fortunes of so-called supergrids appear to be turning, if not on quite the spectacular Bond-villain scale Xi first envisaged.

China has both a manufacturing and technological edge in ultra-high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission lines, and has taken a lead in proposing global technical standards and governance for them. If Xi’s plans are ever realised, those are advantages that some believe could have profound geopolitical implications, granting China power and influence similar to what the US gained by shaping the global financial system after World War II.

Yet it isn’t China that is driving renewed interest in cables that can power consumers in one country with electricity generated hundreds, even thousands, of miles away in another. That’s because carbon-neutrality commitments, technological advances, and improved cost incentives are accelerating a broad expansion of renewable power generation.

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