Nuclear energy not the only option

By Gloria Hsu 徐光蓉  / 

Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - Page 8

At a summit on Tuesday last week on the prospects for developing renewable energy sources, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that there was no way renewable energy sources would be able to replace nuclear energy in the foreseeable future.

With these remarks Ma not only hurt renewable energy operators, but also promoted nuclear power.

Since Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, opinion polls conducted in Taiwan have shown that more than half of respondents, regardless of their political background, are against nuclear power.

However, the government still seizes every opportunity to push its biased ideas about nuclear power.

At the end of last year, the total installed capacity of global nuclear power was 390 GW, while that of renewable energy was 1,470 GW.

Even if we exclude hydroelectric power at 990 megawatts, solar power, wind power and biomass have a combined installed capacity of 480 megawatts, which is higher than that of nuclear power.

Since its introduction, global hydroelectric generation has always been higher than nuclear power generation, and in 2011, solar and wind power generation increased to a level equivalent to 40 percent of global nuclear power generation.

Moreover, the production of renewable energy sources is increasing at a faster pace than nuclear power production which has stagnated and is gradually decreasing.

An article entitled Nuclear power: The dream that failed that appeared in last year’s March 8 edition of The Economist, one year after the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, stated that nuclear power was uneconomical and facing ever-increasing competition from affordable renewable energy sources.

The government often deliberately distorts the question of whether it is possible to replace nuclear power with renewable energy so that it becomes a question of whether renewable energy can replace nuclear power all at once, as if instant rather than gradual replacement were the only alternative to nuclear power generation.

In 2001, Germany’s total power consumption was approximately three times that of Taiwan’s, with 30 percent coming from nuclear power and less than 7 percent coming from renewable energy.

A decade later, Taiwan’s power consumption has increased by 30 percent, while the same figure for Germany increased by only 5.6 percent.

The difference has decreased, and Germany’s power consumption is now only twice that of Taiwan’s. In addition, nuclear power makes up less than 20 percent of Germany’s power consumption while the proportion of renewable energy has increased to more than 20 percent, making it obvious that nuclear power is being replaced by renewable energy.

In 2020 — Ma’s “foreseeable future” — Germany’s use of nuclear power is projected to be almost zero, while 35 percent of its power is projected to come from renewable energy sources, which in addition to nuclear power will begin to replace conventional coal-fired electricity generation.

Denmark, a country of roughly the same size as Taiwan, has no nuclear power. Early on, Denmark relied almost exclusively on imports for its energy needs. After the 1973 oil crisis, the country focused on increasing energy efficiency and developing renewable energy sources.

By 2011, energy consumption had decreased by 1.4 percent from 1990, although its GDP had increased by 40 percent. Renewable energy sources now provide one-fourth of Denmark’s energy needs, with more than 40 percent coming from renewable sources, three-quarters of which is in the form of wind power. It is estimated that by 2035, renewable sources will supply all of Denmark’s energy demand, and that by 2050 renewable energy sources will replace all fossil fuels.

The government is obsessed with nuclear power and envious of Germany, which is successfully working toward eliminating nuclear power and developing renewable energy sources.

The Ma administration is spreading erroneous information, saying that although Germany is scrapping nuclear energy, it still purchases nuclear power from France and that the renewable energy sources Germany is so busy promoting have caused huge hikes in electricity prices.

However, over the past years, Europe has experienced extremely cold winters and, if France did not receive energy support from Germany, it would have almost run out of power.

Apart from the cost, electricity prices in Germany also include an electricity tax, value-added tax and other charges to cover the cost of encouraging the use of co-generation — otherwise known as combined useful heat and power — and royalties. Germany collects an equivalent of NT$0.4 to NT$0.6 per watt of electricity on the charges to cover the costs involved in encouraging the use of co-generation. This extra income has already helped cover more than 20 percent of the costs for power generation from renewable energy sources.

However, if we look at Taiwan from 2008 until now, the average electricity price has increased more than in Germany and the use of renewable energy sources has remained almost zero.

Although prices in Germany are going up, positive things are happening, whereas in Taiwan the government is still just trying to fill a black hole.

In June, while on an inspection tour of nuclear facilities, Ma said that nuclear power should be the nation’s main priority and that renewable energy is laughable.

These remarks, which blatantly overlook the importance of renewable energy, also ignore the changes happening internationally.

Ma insists on doing things his way and his way only. He is also a master of self-deception and cutting himself off from reality, and he is prone to mocking those who are seriously trying to implement the use of renewable energy. If such behavior is not laughable, then what is?

Gloria Hsu is a professor in National Taiwan University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Translated by Drew Cameron