What did it take to turn the lights on in China: Part 2 of 2

To understand what China has accomplished since 1979 when it was ranked seventh among the world’s electricity producers instead of first, it helps to discover the time it took for America’s electrical grid to be built.

In America, Thomas Edison designed and built the first direct current (DC) power plant in 1882.

Then the first alternating current (AC) power plant opened in 1885 and transmitted power 200 miles from the plant.

By 1927, forty-five years later, the first power grid was established in Pennsylvania.

However, it wasn’t until 1933 that Congress passed legislation establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Then in 1935, FDR issued an executive order to create the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to bring electricity to millions of rural Americans.

It took six years after the REA was launched in 1941 to help 800 rural electric cooperatives to string 350,000 miles of power lines.

What took the U.S. 130 years to build starting in 1885, China did in the last 50 years. The biggest difference between modern China and America is the size of the population to supply electricity to. America has a population of more than 321.9 million, but China has about 1.38 billion people—a daunting task.

China vs US for electricity Production

In addition, just in case you think electricity was invented in the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin, think again. The English scientist William Gilbert (1544 – 1603) is called the father of modern electric power. Then Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827) discovered that particular chemical reactions could produce electricity. There were others who contributed, of course, and some were Americans. – Who Discovered Electricity

Return to or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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2 Responses to What did it take to turn the lights on in China: Part 2 of 2

  1. xiaoru89 says:

    Fact checking here: Only about half of China’s population have access to the power grid (probably less). A majority of Chinese homes either have no electricity at all or have a limited amount of electricity, specifically homes that use a solar panel that provides only enough power to heat water for showering. How many homes in the US have no electricity? I’m from probably the most rural state in the US, Kansas, and I have never heard of somebody without a reliable connection to the power grid. Also, examine the reliability of the power grid–Chinese home often face power outages, sometimes for long periods of time.

    • Thank you for your comment. In addition, I found this on Statista.com:

      Until the early 2000s, Chinese infrastructure struggled with imbalances in the electricity system, with wide parts of the country suffering from frequent local black-outs. In order to even out load peaks and valleys in the supply of electricity, the highly fragmented grid system had to be developed as well. As of February 2014, two out of five of the worlds’ longest HVDC transmission lines were located in China. …

      The investment structure of the electricity sector in China suggests a shift of investments from thermal and wind power towards nuclear and hydropower projects by the end of 2013. Overall investments in the sector had reached around 760 billion yuan in 2013, with around 390 billion being directed into grid development projects.


      Doing more “Fact checking” I also found this:

      Some 98 percent of all Chinese household now have electricity. The two percent that don’t are generally in remote mountain villages. In 1995, 120 million Chinese lived without electricity but now only about 25 million or so do. … In remote villages energy is supplied by coffee-can-size hydro generators that sit on top of some bricks along a riverbank and provides light and television for five hours. … The whole electric power system—from generation to transmission to usage—is very inefficient. … The antiquated transmission grid is poorly coordinated and, in many cases, outfit with out of date technology. It cannot automatically reroute power from one region to another as demand and supply rise and fall, which makes it difficult or impossible to move energy from areas with surpluses to areas with shortages.

      Electricity Shortages in China

      Electricity shortages are a serious problem in China. Black outs, brown outs and shortages occur even though power-generating plants are being built a record pace.
      Among the hardest hit areas are places where economic growth is very high such the Shenzhen area in Guangdong Province and the Yangtze River Delta, which includes Shanghai and the provinces Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

      The supply of energy is tightly regulated and is still largely controlled by Communist planners who think in terms of five-year plans. These five year plans are largely to blame for China’s energy shortages. Building electricity infrastructure takes advanced planning. In the late 1990s plans for the early 2000s were made after the Asian financial crisis and growth rates were predicted to be around 7 percent. When 10 percent growth rates materialized in the 2000s, not enough power stations had been built, especially in Guangdong, where growth rates of 15 percent materialized. the result: energy shortages,


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