Fri, Apr 17, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Time to tap into renewable energy

Renewable energy has been in the spotlight this week with the third National Energy Conference taking place in Taipei.

The conference began two days after German wind turbine maker InfraVest Wind Power Group threatened to withdraw from the local market if state-run energy monopoly Taipower refused to raise the tariffs it pays for electricity generated by InfraVest’s turbines.

It was an announcement clearly intended to underline Taiwan’s lack of action on renewable energy ahead of the conference.

InfraVest also implored the government to speed up passage of the proposed statute on promoting renewable energy, a bill that has lain idle in the legislature since 2003.

It would be a severe blow to renewables in Taiwan if InfraVest pulled out of the market as German companies are world leaders in renewable energy generation.

If the government is serious about promoting renewable energy then it should be following the example of countries like Germany, whose Renewable Energy Sources Act came into effect on April 1, 2000.

The law stipulates payment for electricity from renewable energy fed into the grid. Electricity grid operators are obliged to accept all electricity generated and pay for it at stipulated rates.

Since the law passed, the share of renewable energy in total electricity consumption has risen rapidly, from 6.3 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2007, according to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. It hopes to make that figure 45 percent by 2030.

The boom in the renewable sector has also seen the number of jobs increase from 160,000 in 2004 to around 235,000 in 2006.

Contrast that with Taiwan where, according to the Bureau of Energy, renewable energy this year will make up just 3.5 percent of total consumption, and it becomes clear that successive governments have been dragging their feet on this issue.

This is a shame, as Taiwan has great potential for renewable power sources such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal. If properly harnessed, these sources could make up a good portion of Taiwan’s electricity needs.

With a bit of thought and long-term planning the government could create millions of mini power stations by implementing a similar law to harness solar panels placed on the roofs of households.

It could also develop somewhere like Penghu County into a renewable energy powerhouse, harnessing its wind and solar potential to supply power to Taiwan proper while also providing vital investment and jobs for locals. This kind of scheme would be much more beneficial to the islanders than casinos.

The best way to achieve this would be to deregulate the energy generation market and attract foreign expertise and investment. The problem, however, continues to be the government’s apparent reluctance to break Taipower’s monopoly in this market.

It is well and good for politicians to show up at the conference and make promises to pass the energy bill, but unless these promises are backed by action, companies like InfraVest will continue to suffer and Taiwan will remain a renewable energy backwater.

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