Taiwan pledges full review of 'fragile' electrical grid

Pedestrians wandering in a busy street in Taipei during the outage on Tuesday. The blackout affected 6.7 million homes and businesses - about half of Taiwan's 13 million - but major technology manufacturers were not affected.
Pedestrians wandering in a busy street in Taipei during the outage on Tuesday. The blackout affected 6.7 million homes and businesses - about half of Taiwan's 13 million - but major technology manufacturers were not affected.PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwan will conduct a comprehensive review of its "fragile" electrical grid, a day after its worst blackout in nearly two decades on Tuesday.

An error by a contractor caused a key power plant's six generators to trip and led to the islandwide blackout, said the government-owned oil company involved.

Calling the island's electrical grid "fragile", President Tsai Ing-wen said yesterday that the widespread power outage should never have happened and questioned how Taiwan's power system can be so easily paralysed by human error.

Stressing that power supply is a national security issue, she apologised for the outage and pledged that her administration's top priority is to review and strengthen the island's infrastructure.

In brief remarks to reporters, she stressed that the government would urgently look for alternatives such as renewable energy for its power needs. If this problem is not dealt with correctly, Taiwan will face "high systemic risks", said Ms Tsai, whose approval rating recently hit a low of 29.8 per cent.

Tuesday's power outage affected 6.7 million homes and businesses - about half of Taiwan's 13 million - but major technology manufacturers were not affected.

Noting that the power failure should not be seen as an "isolated case", Premier Lin Chuan yesterday ordered a task force to be set up to look into possible errors or flaws in the work processes at power stations. Its tasks include identifying and rectifying management gaps in power companies.

  • 6.7million

    Number of homes and businesses in Taiwan affected by Tuesday's power outage.

He said the task force will rope in global experts to put in place added precautions and safeguards to stabilise the electrical grid and prevent future massive power outages.

He floated the possibility of having more pipelines to deliver electricity from power plants to users, adding that he will address lawmakers' questions on Monday.

The government-owned oil company CPC Corporation involved yesterday explained the error behind the blackout. Chairman Derek Chen told reporters that a contractor hired to replace parts of the power supply system did not switch the system from an automatic to a manual setting. This triggered the computer system to send the wrong signal, which closed a valve and cut off natural gas supply to the Tatan power plant in Taoyuan, causing the power trip.

To restore normal power supply, the government rationed electricity for more than three hours across the island, causing the blackout.

Mr Chen apologised for the error and said CPC will compensate any losses incurred by Taiwan's government-owned utility, Taipower.

The power crisis led Economic Affairs Minister Lee Chih-kung to tender his resignation yesterday. Premier Lin said Mr Lee's deputy, Mr Shen Jong-chin, will take over as acting minister.

But lawmakers have called for the resignations of top executives at the oil company and utility too.

 

The blackout comes as Taiwan faces a looming power crunch. Recent incidents, such as the collapse of a power transmission tower, have put a squeeze on supply.

Tamkang University strategic studies expert Wong Ming-hsien said a review of Taiwan's security grid and infrastructure is "very critical now".

He said: "The safety of our power grid is as important as ensuring that Taiwan's military is combat-ready."

Noting that Taiwan "cannot make it easier for saboteurs to cripple (its) system", he added: "Without more backup systems or precautions, it will be detrimental to financial, medical and defence systems, among other things."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan pledges full review of 'fragile' electrical grid'. Print Edition | Subscribe