Following an investigation by the independent Taiwan Transportation Safety Board into two major train derailments, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has required that all Taiwan Railways Administration projects comply with standard operating procedures.
Massive power outages on May 13 and Aug. 15, 2017, were also caused by staff not following established procedures.
The routine for handovers between local units, construction test units and contractors on the project to upgrade the capacity of the substation involved in the May 13 power outage was useless. Several controls and fool-proofing operations failed simultaneously, the power station’s auxiliary unit could not handle the voltage dips and the generator subgroup was ineffective.
The reliability of the power supply is a matter of national security. After two rolling power outages, the public thinks that the daily status update on the nation’s power supply does not reflect the true power situation at any given time.
If the government handles the latest power grid incident by having an investigative task force of experts write a report, as it did after previous incidents, then the next incident is not far off, because in addition to human error, there are an increasing number of challenges stemming from climate change.
Power grid stakeholders have little opportunity to participate in, and gain an understanding of, the stability of the power supply or responses to power supply bottlenecks and operative decisions regarding the planning of low-frequency unloading.
Following the 2017 incident and a proposal that an independent regulatory body be established for the energy industry to review system risks, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) said: “The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has already set up the Electricity Reliability Commission, the Electricity Tariff Examination Council and the Electricity Industry Mediation Commission.”
In other words, Taipower thinks it works well with the MOEA, that these review committees are adequate and that no other supervision is necessary.
The review committees were established under the Electricity Act (電業法), but their members are mainly government officials and include few power generation experts. The members’ time and participation are limited; they cannot devote themselves to reviewing overall systems or tracking efficiency.
If the Electricity Reliability Commission has the highest oversight of power grid operations, an evaluation should be conducted to show what it did to avoid rolling power outages. While the number of power grid stakeholders is increasing, the government saves time by allowing Taipower to direct the planning, management and operations of the grid.
Government agencies need more power system professionals, but to avoid hiring more personnel, the government entrusts businesses with conducting research projects, providing administrative assistance and indirectly executing public authority — tasks that the Electricity Act says should be handled by the “electricity industry regulatory authority.”
A lack of personnel and expertise, together with the need for independent management, make it difficult to guarantee the quality and efficiency of execution.
The government must build a flexible and resilient power grid, and it should do this by setting up a professional and independent regulatory mechanism for power grid operations, while working with each power grid stakeholder to manage system safety and design, as well as operation of the electricity market.
Lu Chan-nan is a professor in National Sun Yat-sen University’s electrical engineering department and a former president of the Taiwan Power and Energy Engineering Association.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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