Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Lots of sun and roofs: Why can't we go solar?

By Yang Chuen Jen 楊君仁

In response to growing international calls for renewable energy, Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥) has proposed that farmers install solar panels in their fields.

Perhaps a more viable strategy is to replace sheet metal roofs with solar panels.

In 1999, Barcelona passed a regulation decreeing that all new buildings and modifications on existing buildings supply 60 percent of their hot water through solar energy.

After Barcelona implemented this scheme the following August, Catalonia and other regions followed suit.

By 2005, it had become the only piece of legislation that applied to the entire country.

This evolution from local regulation to national legislation increased Spain's total solar panel installations 2,000 percent between 2000 and 2005. Annually, the scheme saves 150 million watts of energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 3,000 tonnes.

With legislation and additional incentives or subsidies, the conversion of metal roofs so characteristic to Taiwan into solar panels ought to be a viable policy.

The scheme would satisfy the impulse of individual home owners to renovate, and reduce the backlog of illegal construction cases by increasing scrutiny of building proposals.

Using green energy would also bring prosperity to the renewable solar power industry, as well as help in the fight against global warming.

Most people are not as conscious of the global climate crisis as the immediate problems associated with air pollution, and concrete change toward preventing climate change is hampered as a result.

If air quality is poor, people tend to complain.

Climate change, though caused by the same pollutants, does not generate the same negative public response.

Basking in the heat of a winter sun after successive days of rain, people are unlikely to digest bad news relating to global warming when the most dramatic evidence of it occurs in remote regions.

This gap in consciousness in turn affects the implementation and effectiveness of environmental legislation.

This, together with the self-interest of governments and different degrees of progress between countries, means that global warming remains largely unimpeded despite ratification of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

Yet as a member of the global village, and despite differences in implementation and political problems -- including Taiwan's exclusion from most international organizations and the UN's protocols -- we should nevertheless endeavor to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only should we push for this kind of legislation, policymakers should also utilize recent fluctuations in oil prices to kick-start a new age of solar energy.

Even Germany, which is located at an extra-tropical latitude and lacks many months of brilliant sunshine, can turn solar energy into a national movement through the combined efforts of government, industry and the general public.

Even the previously industrial Aachen has become a benchmark city for solar energy, with red-tiled roofs now housing solar panels.

Located in the subtropics and the tropics, Taiwan has no cause for concern, because the potentially excellent benefits of converting metal roofs to solar panels can be observed everywhere.

Yang Chuen-jen is director of the National Central University's Institute of Law and Government.

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