China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 1, 2016
Executive Summary: Summer has arrived early on Taiwan. Electricity use has skyrocketed. On May 30 peak power transfer capacity was only 920,000 kW. The reserve transfer capacity rate was only 2.7%, the third lowest in history. Taiwan was one step away from a red alert and power rationing. Tsai Ing-wen promised “No power shortages” before and after the election. So did Minister of Economic Affairs Roy S. Lee. The new government's energy policy must be more pragmatic and less reckless.
Full Text Below:
Summer has arrived early on Taiwan. Electricity use has skyrocketed. On May 30 peak power transfer capacity was only 920,000 kW. The reserve transfer capacity rate was only 2.7%, the third lowest in history. Taiwan was one step away from a red alert and power rationing. Tsai Ing-wen promised “No power shortages” before and after the election. So did Minister of Economic Affairs Roy S. Lee. The new government's energy policy must be more pragmatic and less reckless.
Historically speaking, reserve transfer capacity rates below 7% usually require power rationing. The reserve capacity rate may suggest that the situation is not that pessimistic. The early arrival of summer caused electricity consumption to soar. That was unexpected. According to Taipower, generators are undergoing maintenance. Work should be completed by July. If the First Nuclear Power Plant's Unit I and the Second Nuclear Power Plant's Unit II begin operation on schedule, "This year's power supply will not be a problem".
Please note this means the First Nuclear Power Plant and the Second Nuclear Power Plant must operate in unison. Only then will power supply not be a problem. But the First Nuclear Power Plant's Unit I and the Second Nuclear Power Plant's Unit II can probably improve transfer rates only 2% to 3%. If they fail to operate normally, power output will be further limited. This pertains to only two units in two nuclear power plants. An even more important question remains. DPP energy policy will eliminate nuclear power plants altogether. The power supply will be reduced 16 to 18 percent. How is that supposed to work out?
The new government's energy policy would replace nuclear energy with renewable energy. The percentage of energy provided by renewable energy sources is expected to increase to 20% by 2025. Renewable energy would completely replace nuclear energy. Therefore according to the new government, eliminating nuclear energy is a no-brainer that will not compromise the power supply. But anyone who knows anything about the realities of power generation, knows the uncertainties and risks involved. Renewable energy is subject to climatic factors. It cannot be used as a base load power source. Over the past decade the increase in renewable energy has been limited. Timely conversion to renewable energy is unlikely. All renewable energy sources, large and small, must be connected to the grid before they can contribute. The construction of such grids in the short-term is impossible.
The new government is painting a pretty picture of a renewable energy future. Can this pretty picture be realized? That remains to be seen. In any event, it cannot alleviate the problem in the short-term. It is certain to result in power shortages. Also, lest we forget, increasing the percentage of renewable energy to 30% will require an investment of 1.5 trillion dollars. The government simply does not have the money. Any investment by private entrepreneurs must be profitable. The cost of renewable energy generation is exorbitant. Electricity rate hikes will be unavoidable. That runs counter to the new government's commitment to "No hikes in electricity rates”.
Minister of Economic Affairs Roy S. Lee, in his first press conference upon taking office, said, "All nuclear power plants will be shut down by 2025. There is no room for discussion. As long as we work together, we will not need power rationing". For a minister to have clear policy objectives and firm beliefs is admirable. But a government energy policy for the next decade based not on practical and feasible plans, but on the blind faith of political parties and ministers is a terrifying prospect.
Any national energy policy planning and implementation requires a long time scale to be effective. A new power plant, from planning to completion and operation, often requires 10 years or more. Look back at some of the presidents who have completed power plants in office. During its eight years in office, the Chen government increased generating capacity by 9.02 million kW. During its term in office, the Ma government increased generating capacity by 2.73 million kW. These were not the result of Chen government initiatives to increase power capacity, but rather its willingness to complete Lee Teng-hui era plans. New generating capacity during the Ma government era was almost entirely the result of earlier plans from the Lee Teng-hui era. The Chen government contributed almost nothing. Over the next three to four years, the Tsai government is expected to undertake Ma government era plans to build eight units that will provide 6.67 million kW of electricity.
The Tsai government intends to shut down all nuclear power plants. But what if renewable energy fails to replace lost capacity as swiftly as expected? When reserve capacity rates plummet to 10% to 7%, into the danger zone or even lower, Taiwan will suffer blackouts or power rationing. The next president, or President Tsai during a second term, will no longer enjoy an energy surplus bequeathed by previous planners. Given the time required between planning and operation, Taiwan will suffer through many years of power shortages.
Just before his appointment as the new government's Atomic Energy Commissioner, Hsieh Hsiao-hsin warned that the development of renewable energy and a nuclear-free homeland, will require "the public to expect power shortages and be resigned to electricity rate hikes". He warned that "if we cannot tolerate blackouts and rate hikes, the goal will be difficult to achieve". The new government has been in office less than two weeks. Yet reserve transfer capacity has already fallen below 3%. This constitutes a warning. It tells the new government that its energy policy must be pragmatic.
This year is an anti-El Nino year. A long, hot summer is inevitable. Power shortages are indeed worrisome. Only recently Roy S. Lee thumped his chest and promised “No power shortages”. But the day before yesterday he changed his tune. He said "Work is not 100% complete", and “We must go all out to deal with it". His is clearly afraid to issue any more boasts. A nuclear-free homeland and increased reliance on renewable energy sources may be a laudable ideal. But even if one is determined to promote them, one must also be pragmatic. One must not allow domestic power shortages. One must implement such a policy gradually. One must not be reckless. Once power is rationed, the livelihood of the people will be at risk, and the people will be in pain. Can the new government really afford to be this careless?