Sun, Dec 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Elections will not halt green push

By John Mathews

Taiwan’s green development model suffered a setback with the success of the referendum calling for a suspension of the closure of nuclear reactors. The Democratic Progressive Party government has responded appropriately, announcing that it would scrap its regulations calling for closure of reactors by 2025.

Whether or not the reactors can be brought out of mothballs safely is a separate matter, and in this sense their future remains uncertain.

However, what is not uncertain is the strength of the government’s resolve to take Taiwan in a green direction, both in terms of building up renewable-energy capacity and shifting to a circular economy. Nothing in [Nov. 24’s nine-in-one] election results could be interpreted as a rebuff to Taiwan’s green shift, which has a clear and understandable foundation in industrial strategy.

Building circular-economy loops, connecting industrial outputs to other processes — such as is being experimented with in Kaohsiung — would enhance Taiwan’s resource security. It will need continued research support, such as that provided by the Industrial Technology Research Institute.

Building renewable energy capacity, such as through offshore wind and solar photovoltaic power, if combined with adequate energy storage capacity (eg, through various kinds of batteries), will enhance the country’s energy security and make it more feasible to address the question of the future of nuclear power when the opportunity presents itself again.

Taiwan has decades of experience in building new industries like semiconductors, flat-panel displays, IT and ICT [information and communication technology], all of which have moved rapidly from imitation to innovation, becoming strong contributors to Taiwan’s development. In this sense Taiwan’s model is grounded in realistic national goals rather than in abstract and less immediate goals, such as contributing to the mitigation of climate change.

At the same time, Taiwan’s green strategies have the effect of reducing pollution and relieving geopolitical constraints imposed on the country by the past necessity of importing fossil fuels.

Take the case of offshore wind power. This is a clever move, as it targets a sector where Taiwan has abundant resources — wind speeds and energy are elevated in the Taiwan Strait — and available sites that do not conflict with existing agricultural or industrial activities on land.

The government, through the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), has specified a target of 5.5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power capacity to be built and operating by 2025. This target and target date remains intact, unaffected by the referendums.

Offshore wind is a strategic choice in that its costs are still higher than for onshore wind and there are as yet few players to act as an obstacle to Taiwan’s technology leverage and catch-up efforts.

However, Taiwan’s experience in manufacturing means that ministries like the MOEA understand that costs for offshore wind turbines will fall as the market expands, and that it is smart to claim a position in the industry early in its trajectory.

The government is pursuing a clever strategy by creating conditions where companies with offshore wind power technology can be attracted to Taiwan. It stages public auctions of grid-connected capacity at which foreign specialist companies are encouraged to bid.

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