Foreigners Vie to Upgrade China Grid

China’s plan to upgrade its electricity network has sparked intense competition among General Electric Co. (GE), Siemens AG (SI) and other foreign companies seeking a foothold in what will soon be one of the world’s biggest markets for advanced power transmission and distribution systems.

GE estimates China will spend $60 billion over the next decade to upgrade outdated infrastructure, using digital technology and other advanced equipment to make a “smart grid” that can distribute power more efficiently and flexibly. Other estimates put the spending as high as $100 billion over 10 years. The sums are comparable to estimates of what the U.S. will spend on similar improvements.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao elevated smart-grid construction to a national priority in March, when, for the first time, he mentioned it in his closely watched annual work report to China’s legislature. Officials say they want to finish the renovations by 2020.

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