Mon, May 28, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Renewables can recharge Taiwan

By Alex Tong 童遷祥

The policy to increase fuel and electricity prices has prompted a wave of public complaints directed at CPC Corp, Taiwan and Taiwan Power Co, as well as leading to a series of domestic commodity price fluctuations. However, amid the controversy, the fact that Taiwan is not energy self-sufficient and that it needs to save energy has been ignored. Compared with the first energy crisis in 1973, Taiwan now has many more tools at its disposal when seeking to alleviate the threat of energy shortages and to lower its dependence on energy imports. It is, above all, a matter of determination.

Using renewable energy along with saving energy is a two-pronged strategy to solve the energy crisis by combining the development of new energy sources with energy cutbacks. This may sound like more of the same old thing, but since the first energy crisis in the 1970s, solar energy and wind power have matured and now have high application value.

It is still a very common belief that renewable energy is prohibitively expensive and therefore can only be used to meet small-scale needs. Compared with big-hitting mature energy sources such as oil, coal and nuclear power, this view currently makes sense. However, oil will one day dry up; coal poses a serious carbon emissions problem and nuclear energy — as a proportion of our energy mix — will have to be diminished given the direction that public opinion has taken since last year’s nuclear disaster in Japan.

With every ‘traditional’ energy source facing new challenges, it is time we started to give serious consideration to renewable energies.

Solar power is no longer the expensive source of energy that it once was. Ten years ago, the cost of one kWh of solar energy was NT$15 to NT$20, but that has now dropped to about NT$7. As the technology continues to develop and markets expand, it is very possible that this cost will drop by another 50 percent and maybe even more over the next decade. By that time, solar power will be able to compete with “traditional” energy sources on equal terms.

Another issue that is frequently brought up when discussing the development of renewable energy sources concerns the land needed for the construction of renewable energy farms. On the flip side, solar and wind power are both clean sources of energy and as long as there is ample communication and accurate environmental impact assessments, the construction of such energy farms tapping into these renewable sources is unlikely to meet much public opposition.

Currently, about 20,000 hectares of Taiwan’s land is considered unfit for agricultural use, either because of pollution or because of salinization through coastal land subsidence. This land could potentially be used to host either solar power or wind power plants. If proper plans could be made for obtaining the land alongside adequate compensation schemes, converting land into an energy resource would no longer simply be a dream.

Late last year, the Bureau of Energy, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, drew up a plan to develop 1 million roof-top solar panels and 1,000 sea and land-based wind power turbines. The bureau’s proposal has forecast that by 2030, renewable energy power generation could reach 12,500MW and account for more than 16 percent of Taiwan’s installed capacity. It would generate about 35.6 billion kWh per year, the approximate amount of energy used by 8.9 million households.

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