[Energy Taiwan Interview] WPD Toils on Taiwan Soil; Onshore Electricity Even Cheaper Than Taipower Electricity

published: 2019-11-21 9:54 | editor: | category: Interviews

For many, the initial reactions to the words “renewable energy” are complaints of another rise in electricity bills and the expensiveness of green energy. WPD Taiwan Chairwoman Yuni Wang pointed out during an interview that this was a deep misconception. Indeed, the government's current investment in this area may cause electricity prices to rise somewhat, but renewable energy only makes up under 10% of the total energy in Taiwan and gives rise to a minimal increase in electricity prices not as scary as one might believe. In fact, WPD has already dealt in Taiwan's onshore wind-energy for nearly 20 years, selling wind-power to Taipower at rates of only 2 ~ 2.6 TWD per kW-h—even cheaper than standard electricity prices.

One of the government's key policies is to promote offshore wind-energy and facilitate domestic wind-energy production. This is in hopes of constructing a complete, domestic chain of offshore wind-energy industry. This new, unprecedented form of energy has, however, split the country in two: Critics are all worried about the rising electricity prices, spoiled ocean sceneries, damaged sea-floor structures, whether foreign turbine designs can withstand Taiwan’s earthquakes and other issues.

Perhaps we may take a look at Taiwan's history of wind-energy development. Yuni Wang points out that WPD had already begun developing onshore wind-energy in Taiwan back in 2001. The domestic situation was much more challenging than today, as the government was rather unfamiliar with renewable energy back then, and the Executive Yuan didn't even have a dedicated energy management institution. There was only the Energy Commission. And although Taipower had already began investing in wind-power, those efforts were only focused on the construction of power plants. Effectively, WPD had to join hands with partners who likewise cared about renewable energy and aid the legislative division in drafting the legislative framework for the promotion of renewable energy. Thus was born the draft of the “Renewable Energy Development Act.”

Besides working with the central government, communicating with local governments also proved to be major work. At first, everyone could only guess how the turbines would look like from photos and such, as although the actual footprints of turbines are small, the reach of the blades above cover quite a wide span of space, causing people to worry about a variety of problems the gigantic turbines would cause, such as its impact on the ecosystem, operational noise detrimental to the daily lives of neighboring residents, concerns over toppling and over whether it may be a worthwhile investment etc. But as it turns out, there weren't a lot of objections or complaints from the residents after construction.

Yuni Wang stressed that turbines aren't considered an especially dangerous structure in other countries, and pointed to the normal standards for building strength and seismic resistance. A higher seismic resistance may be required of Taiwan's buildings, but as long as a standard is set and businesses follow design regulations, there isn't much to worry about. Seeing that WPD has already built 180 wind turbines as of now, these turbines have definitely stood the test of time.

Now that the government is pushing for offshore electricity, similar questions have been popping up. Fortunately, the future of Taiwan energy is no longer decided by Taipower and CPC as it was before. Yuni Wang affirms that offshore electricity will receive wider acceptance among Taiwanese citizens due to the existence of an overarching ‘energy transition’ policy and supervision at various levels, and the rapid pace of its development overall has already caught the attention of European countries. Yuni Wang states that even her colleagues at the main branch at Bremen, Germany considers Taiwan as a global model in policy enactment and execution.

Yuni Wang acknowledges the government’s steadfast resolve to make the energy transition, and achieved a few major goals in a realistic manner by adopting a “selection first, bidding later” strategy: domestication of offshore electricity; attracting key foreign investors; and achieving the bidding process virtually without the need of governmental subsidies in a short period of time. Such an impressive feat invited researchers from European countries to see what they may learn from Taiwan’s developmental journey.

For comparison, we may take a look at the energy transition roadmap of France, a country that relies heavily on nuclear power. France had been over-dependent on nuclear power for the past half-century, with hefty budgets in maintenance and construction nearly dragging down the EDF's finance. Yet a window of opportunity came when the Paris Agreement was formed in 2015, allowing France to pass the ambitious Energy Transition for Green Growth Act in July of the same year. The goal of the act was to lower the proportion of nuclear power from 75% down to 50% by 2025 and begin the development of renewable energy, including onshore wind power, solar power, offshore wind power etc.

Yet, France's offshore wind power had always been procured purely under a bidding model, by which developers are required to promote production domestication. But a high price risk meant that production domestication was an unrealizable goal, which further delayed construction completion of offshore wind farms.

However, the Taiwan government introduced FiTs in the initial developmental stages on locations of potential, which could give foreign businesses a clear view of the risks and controllability in development. And with Taiwan's highly rich ocean resources, we see that Taiwan has swiftly and successfully attracted important offshore wind power plant companies from various countries, and has moved on to the second stage of development by introducing the bidding system. This ensured a lower cost for future offshore wind power. While other countries completed this process from FiTs to competitive prices along the course of 10-15 years, Taiwan could achieve this feat in 5-6 years’ time if the current trend continues.

Green Energy Enters the Free Market, Unveiling a Few Truths in the Process

Freeing markets for green energy also constitutes a major push for offshore electricity. Yuni Wang criticized claims of “renewable energy leading to rising electricity bills“ as being fake news. As of today, WPD already sells onshore wind power to Taipower for only 2 ~ 2.6 TWD per kW-h, and can provide 0.8 billion kW-h of electricity in a year, fully discrediting the rumor outside the industry that renewable energy price would climb to a height of 5 ~ 6 TWD per kW-h.

And owing to political manipulation, many people believe the Green camp to be for green energy and the Blue camp to be against. Oftentimes, Yuni Wang feels amazed by the stereotypical views of laypeople, as the Renewable Energy Development Act was actually passed during President Ma's administration. The demonstration plants in the first stage of offshore wind energy development were also decided during the Ma Ying-jeou Administration, and claims that the blue camp were against renewable energy are unfounded.

After two government handovers between parties, Yuni Wang believes that renewable energy development has already become a major world trend. Although different parties differ in their paces and methods of promotion, both the Green and Blue parties have always stayed the course in renewable energy development.

About "Energy Taiwan"

Held by TAITRA and SEMI jointly, the "Energy Taiwan" fair will take place at Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center, Hall 1, during Oct. 16-18, in conjunction with "PV Taiwan" exhibition, "Wind Energy Taiwan," "HFC Taiwan," and "Smart Storage Taiwan" exhibition. It is the largest exhibition platform for renewable-energy transactions in Taiwan, expected to attract more than 10,000 domestic and foreign buyers of related industries. For more information, please access the official website at https://www.energytaiwan.com.tw/.

(Photo Credit: WPD, Yun-Yi Wang, Chairman of WPD)

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