Mon, Aug 28, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Intelligent, not nuclear solutions

By Liu Chih-wen 劉志文

The power outages on Aug. 15, due to a natural gas supply disruption to a major power plant in Taoyuan’s Datan Township (大潭), and on July 29, due to the collapse of a transmission tower at Ho-Ping Power Co’s plant in Hualien County, did more than curtail Taiwanese use of electricity, they gave rise to calls to mitigate against a supposed capacity crisis by restarting nuclear power plants, or even building more plants.

Will restarting nuclear power plants really solve the problem of nationwide power shortages? Will it really ensure against an energy crisis due to a transmission tower collapse? Contentions such as these do not really hold water, and indeed will only exacerbate the problem.

A more sober analysis shows that the recent electricity “crises” do not have any direct connection to total electricity capacity or the power generation method, but have more to do with flaws in power grid management.

There is no relationship between increasing the number of nuclear plants and whether the power grid can be improved, nor a direct connection between restarting nuclear power plants or increasing generative capacity and addressing system flaws.

Talk of increasing the number of nuclear power plants is both irresponsible and unhelpful to the matter at hand.

The collapse of the Ho-Ping plant’s transmission tower made it unable to supply electricity, and this caused the supply warning light to trip.

When the natural gas supply from CPC Corp, Taiwan was cut, the six generators at the Datan plant shut down, leaving more than 6 million people around the nation without electricity. These events brought into the open certain shortcomings in Taiwan’s national power grid.

Our research of the power grid and power management, conducted over an extensive period, has shown that weaknesses in the power grid lie in risk management flaws between energy agencies.

According to media reports, the electricity demand at the time of the latest power cut was 34 gigawatts (GW), while the total electricity supply for the nation was 37.6GW, meaning that the supply exceeded the amount being used by 3.6GW.

The Datan plant has a capacity of 4.2GW and, at the time of the blackout, all six of its generators were running at full capacity. Therefore, the supply from Datan was, at the time, in excess of the operating reserve.

As far as systemic stability is concerned, should the generators at the Datan plant suddenly, for whatever reason, cease supplying electricity, the operating reserve would be unable to make up for the loss.

As a result, this is an issue of power grid risk management.

The problem was that, as this was happening, CPC and Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) had underestimated the supply-side risk of the system, and neglected the fact that the operating reserve was insufficient for accommodating a shut-down of the supply at the Datan plant.

With this low operating reserve, engineers were sent to replace valve components that controlled the natural gas supply at the plant, a process that they carried out without adhering to proper procedure, putting the system in jeopardy.

How can the agencies responsible for the power supply and for power management not be more vigilant of such circumstances?

It is like a doctor deciding to stick a gastroscope into your stomach just as you were stuffing your face with meat and washing it down with a beer. Why would a doctor even think of doing that? You would be lucky not to choke to death.

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