If the government is successful in implanting its plans to diversify the nation's energy sources and protect the environment, by 2011 the island's landscape will be transformed with the addition of 200 wind-powered generators. Media reports and online forums have already heralded the arrival of the renewable energy era, and though such views may be premature, business and the government aim to install turbines capable of generating 2,159 megawatts of power, which is projected to provide 4.2 percent of Taiwan's electricity needs, a big increase from the current 0.02 percent.
As soaring oil prices and the threat of global warming prompt governments around the world to explore green energy sources, wind power, with its higher cost efficiency than other renewable energy sources, stands out as a promising star. In Taiwan, wind energy is the least expensive green power source compared to current alternatives, and is able to compete with coal-fired plants on cost.
An attractive alternative
Buffeted by strong winds, Taiwan is in a better position than Europe or the US to harness the renewable energy source. The island boasts about 2,000km2 of land where the average wind speed is 4 meters per second, the minimum strength at which a wind turbine can begin to generate electricity. The west and north coasts and offshore islands experience the nation's strongest winds, and are seen as ideal sites for wind farms.
Wind power, however, may not be the perfect panacea that it is sometimes portrayed as.
Climatic conditions are not suitable for the yearlong harvesting of wind power. Between October and March winds are powerful enough to drive the turbines, but during summer, when electricity demand is highest, they drop off.
“Technically speaking, it's possible to store the electricity generated by wind power plants, but the cost is just too high,” Ho Chien-huei (何建輝), a deputy director at Taipower's (台灣電力公司) Department of Power Development said.
The unstable nature of the elements cements wind energy's role as an auxiliary power source. Since wind flows are neither steady nor constant, the fluctuating amount of electricity generated by the turbines could interfere with the normal operation of the whole utility grid.
Taipower needs to conduct an analysis of grid connectivity for each wind farm to ensure supply stability, Ho said.
Though building wind farms will not spell the demise of nuclear or coal-fired power plants, advocates of renewable energy argue that the construction of wind farms should be seen as a necessary step in developing home-grown energy, diversifying power sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 1980s, the Industrial Technology Research Institute and Taipower built small wind turbines in Hsinchu County (新竹縣), as well as on the offshore islands of Penghu (澎湖) and Kinmen (金門), to study and evaluate wind power's potential. After the government released a five-year renewable energy subsidy plan in 2000, Formosa Heavy Industries Corp (台塑重工), a unit of Formosa Plastics Group, installed Taiwan's first wind-power systems to supply power to its factories in Mailiao, Yunlin County (雲林縣麥寮). In 2002, Tien Loong Corporation's (天隆造紙廠) paper mills began using energy from two Denmark-designed wind turbines located in northern Hsinchu County.