Taiwan powers up to prevent more blackouts

Taipei in darkness during a power outage on Aug 15. A human error shut down six generators in a government-owned utility's power plant, which resulted in a 10 per cent cut in Taiwan's power-generation capacity.
Taipei in darkness during a power outage on Aug 15. A human error shut down six generators in a government-owned utility's power plant, which resulted in a 10 per cent cut in Taiwan's power-generation capacity.PHOTO: REUTERS

After massive outage last month, govt makes plans to boost electrical grid, power network

Taiwan is taking steps to beef up its power grid and boost electricity supply, even as investigations continue into an islandwide blackout more than two weeks ago.

In his first comments since the Aug 15 outage, the worst in two decades, the energy bureau's director-general, Dr Lin Chuan-neng, told The Sunday Times that Taiwan's electrical grid and power network "need to be strengthened".

He outlined the steps Taipei has taken to improve the situation.

First, it has bought unused electricity from manufacturing plants by raising bidding prices by 12 per cent. This has given big manufacturers or industrial zones more incentive to save and and sell unused electricity. He said up to 1,210MW of electricity a day has been tapped this way - enough to supply more than 870,000 homes and businesses.

Second, the government is keen to fast-track the construction of a second power line that links a power plant in Taiwan's east to the north. The line will be looped through the west which, unlike the east, is not as badly hit by storms or typhoons.

Third, the energy bureau will pay more attention to the construction of 10 new power plants and power generators, slated for operation by 2025, to ensure they are up and running on time, if not earlier. The new plants would boost Taiwan's current capacity of producing about 49,000MW of electricity daily by nearly 30 per cent. Half of these new generators would be located in the more densely populated cities of northern Taiwan, like Taipei and New Taipei.

Dr Lin said the aim was to ensure that the operating reserve margin, the difference between power produced and consumed, hits 15 per cent by 2019. Taiwan now has an estimated reserve margin of 10.4 per cent, lower than South Korea (17 per cent) and Singapore (30 per cent).

A human error shut down six generators in the government-owned utility's power plant in Taoyuan last month, which led to a 10 per cent cut in the island's power-generation capacity and an outage affecting over six million households and businesses. The government is expected to release findings this week into what led to the blackouts.

Questions, however, remain over the reliability of the electricity grid as well as President Tsai Ing-wen's plan to phase out nuclear energy by 2025. The government aims to shut down three nuclear power plants - which now supply about 12 per cent of Taiwan's needs - by then.

Taiwan now relies mainly on coal for its power needs, with renewable alternatives such as wind, solar and hydro energy making up a meagre 6 per cent. The government wants to raise the proportion of renewable energy to 20 per cent by 2025.

Some analysts question if going nuclear-free so soon might be too drastic. "The government might be too ambitious to make such a big shift in its energy supply," said Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research's assistant research fellow Chen Jong-shun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 03, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan powers up to prevent more blackouts'. Print Edition | Subscribe