Following the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March last year, academics from a dozen universities and colleges conducted a study on how their students and other members of the public felt about nuclear power in Taiwan. The study showed that Taiwanese are almost universally uneasy about the country’s nuclear power plants and that a very high percentage hope a more effective renewable energy source can be found.
The state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have for some time been engaged in scaremongering, telling the public that the country is an island nation with few energy resources. Without nuclear power, so their argument goes, we would not be able to produce enough power, which would lead to higher electricity bills. However, is this really the case?
According to international organizations, such as the US’ Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), Taiwan is, shockingly, ranked 14th in the world in terms of power usage per person. Furthermore, the countries that rank above Taiwan in their power usage are either those in colder climes at higher latitudes — such as Finland, Sweden, Norway or Canada — or other countries in tropical regions that are much wealthier, such as oil-producing Kuwait and Bahrain.
Taiwan uses — or wastes — far more energy than more economically and industrially advanced nations that have no, or severely lack, natural energy resources, such as Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and Israel.
So why do Taiwanese waste so much electricity? Taipower has consistently said that Taiwan has hot weather, so people need electricity to maintain a decent quality of life. This is muddle-headed and disingenuous. According to a report published in the April edition of CommonWealth Magazine last year, electricity is extremely cheap in Taiwan compared with other countries, which goes some way to explaining why the country is the biggest emitter of carbon per person in Asia, and among the top 18 emitters in the world.
This is nothing to be proud of. On average, each Taiwanese produces as much as 11.8 tonnes in carbon emissions every year. Carbon emissions per person in Taiwan have doubled since the 1990s, three times faster than the global average. A CommonWealth online survey shows that two-thirds of Taiwanese would be willing to pay higher energy bills if it meant wasting less energy, a conclusion borne out by research findings.
However, another surprise awaits us if we look more closely at the cost of electricity in Taiwan and that of other countries. On average, the cost of 1 kilowatt of electricity in Taiwan is unusually low compared to that in heavily industrialized countries that supply their own energy needs and still have a surplus to export, such as Canada, Dubai, France and Germany. Electricity prices in Taiwan are only higher, or comparable, to a small number of underdeveloped, non--industrial countries, such as Ukraine, Pakistan and Russia, suggesting that our energy policy is stuck in a model adopted 60 years ago, when we embarked on the process of industrialization. Consequently, we now rely on imported energy.
Taiwan long ago moved on from labor-intensive industries to finance and service industries. Our economy, driven by research and development and innovation, is now a knowledge economy, so why do we still employ an energy policy developed so long ago?