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Revisiting Taiwan's Energy Policy Following Aug. 15 Power Outage

published: 2017-09-08 15:45

The Aug. 15 extensive power outage disrupting local people's life, triggered by CPC Taiwan's error in gas supply for Taipower, has prompted rethinking of the nation's energy policy.

At the heart of the issue is DPP government's active promotion of green power, under the auspices of its "nuclear-free homeland" policy, a major factor behind the share of green power rising to 4.8% in 2016, a new high. In addition to the revision of the "Electricity Act" and the "Renewable Energy Act," much remains to be done, in order to achieve the government's goal of raising the share of green power to 20% by 2020.

For starters, the government should intensify cross-ministry communication and increase the flexibility of regulations. For the leadership of the central government, energy transformation plan has extensive involvement, whose execution needs concerted effort among various government units. One problem is how to acquire the extensive plot of land, estimated at 20,000 hectares, for the increase of PV power generation to 20 GW, up from 1.34 GW now.

Regulator should be more flexible for co-prosperity of land and energy resources

After the liberalization by the Council of Agriculture (COA) in 2013, PV power and other green-energy facilities have sprouted on farmland, causing numerous land speculations and other side effects, which prompted the COA to tighten its measures greatly. The restrictive stance has augmented the risks for green-power investments considerably, discouraging prospective investors and dampening installation of PV power stations. How to balance farming and green-energy development, under the auspices of "PV power supplementing farming operation," constitutes a major challenge for the COA.

The government has recently been promoting floating PV power facilities, which are installed in ponds, fishing ponds, reservoirs, and retention basins. Such facilities, though, involve regulations on the utilization of water areas, including water-retention function and the impact on landscape and water quality. The Water Resources Agency, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the COA should be more flexible in the interpretation of the related regulations, to facilitate the installation of such facilities.

Accelerating investment in transitional substitute energies to assure power supply

(Source: Flickr CC BY 3.0 / Dennis Jarvis)
In addition, investments in alternative energies should be stepped up, in order to cut the share of nuclear power. To cope with the decommissioning of the first and second nuclear power plants, the MOEA has planned to boost the share of fuel gas-fired power to 50% by 2025, to fill the shortfall of power supply, before green power becomes a mainstay in the nation's power structure. To attain the goal, Taiwan will have to greatly increase the import of natural gas. However, Taiwan has only two LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals now and the third terminal project, located in Kuantang Industrial Zone of Taoyuan, has been stalled, due to difficulty for passing environmental impact assessment. Moreover, there needs massive investments in building new transportation and storage facilities or expanding existing ones.

For stabilizing LNG supply and cutting cost, the government can consider investing in overseas gas fields.

Development of renewable energies and smart power grid

(Source: Flickr CC BY 3.0 / Ian Muttoo)
The development of renewable energies is indispensable for the government nuclear-free homeland vision. The government aims to raise the share of green power to 20%. While biomass energy and hydraulic power are more controllable, the government is focusing on the development of PV power and offshore wind farms, whose supply is more unreliable. The situation may jeopardize the steadiness of the nation's power-supply structure.

Before his resignation, former Premier Lin Chuan instructed raising the target of wind power to 3.5 GW, up from original 3 GW, equivalent to the power generated by two nuclear power plants. Thanks to its unique geographic environment, Taiwan is one of the few nations in the world suited to the development of offshore wind power. To overcome environmental disputes, the government should publicize sites suited for offshore wind farms and step up communication with environmental groups.

Given its short construction period, the government has focused on developing PV power stations, before maturity of wind power. In addition, PV power output peaks in summertime, which happens to be peak season for power consumption.

However, PV power and wind power are subject to the constraint of time and space, unable to generate power at night or windless days. Therefore, along with the increase of the share of renewable energies, ratio among various forms of power generation should be perfected.

Optimal share of renewable energies in power supply should be set, taking into account the distribution of power generation and consumption, as well as the features and generation status of green power. Japan also focuses on the development of PV power at present, in exchange for sufficient time for developing offshore wind power.

For effective utilization of renewable energies, the primary task is to control the output of green power. For that purpose, there needs to build more power storage facilities, for release of stored power during times of necessity.  

Given the unsteady and unpredictable nature of green power, the development of smart grids is necessary, as it can alleviate the impact of fluctuation of frequency on the grid and improve the connection among power generation, transmission, and distribution. Smart grid can also combine with storage systems to form a micro grid for linkup with a big grid, thereby raising the overall resilience and strength of the grid and achieving power saving.

(Collaborative media: TechNews, photo courtesy of public domain CCO).

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