China’s first island-based smart power grid was energized last week on Yongxing Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and the site of Beijing’s newly created prefecture-level city of Shansha, whose jurisdiction covers virtually the entire sea.  

Reports by Xinhua and People’s Daily made no secret of the fact that these grids are to power the numerous military installations that Beijing has piled on the islands and atolls reclaimed from the sea, with the ultimate goal of encompassing all natural and artificial islands occupied by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops.   

The power grid increases an island’s power supply as much as eightfold and can operate independently or in conjunction with Hainan province’s main electrical grid to meet civilian and military needs, according to Xinhua. 

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China aims to build a power grid to span the South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua

The first microgrid installed can later be developed into a control center to manage and monitor other microgrid networks on surrounding islands. 

Electricity for these far-flung tropical islets is normally generated by diesel generators and photovoltaic sources. There have also been reports about a pilot scheme for “shipborne nuclear stations” that can sail to and service different islands and oil rigs scattered across the South China Sea.

Beijing is accused of fortifying islands covered by conflicting territorial claims by nations that border the sea. The PLA has reportedly installed launch silos for surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles on some strategically located islands, particularly on Scarborough Shoal.

The service life of weaponry can be extended by reducing its reliance on self-contained chargers and instead connecting it to stable power sources, Beijing-based military commentator Song Zhongping told Global Times. 

Stable electricity is also critical at armories and arms depots for handling the high temperatures, humidity and salinity of these islands.

Electrical reliability on the islands connected and served by the grid can be controlled from China Southern Power Grid’s control center in Haikou, provincial capital of Hainan, through fiber-optic submarine cables.