Suggestion 2: Set a realistic energy plan that considers both energy demand and carbon-emission reduction goals.
Last December, Taiwan joined other members of the international community in announcing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) for reductions in carbon emissions. Taiwan committed to cutting the level of carbon emissions by 20% by 2030 and 50% by 2050, compared to a base line of 2005 emissions. The path to meeting that commitment remains unclear.
More than half of Taiwan’s carbon emissions come from power generation. There are three types of power plants: fossil fuel (basically coal or gas), nuclear, and renewable. Fossil-fuel power plants produce carbon emissions, while nuclear and renewable power facilities are carbon-free. Currently 78% of Taiwan’s power demand is met by fossil-fuel plants, 17% by nuclear, and 5% by renewable sources. To meet the INDC commitment, Taiwan would have to greatly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels power and greatly increase its capacity for power generation from other energy sources.
However, the government’s adoption of a “Nuclear Free Homeland” policy would seem to rule out any increase in the use of nuclear power, which currently contributes 40 billion kWh of electrical energy annually. Besides mothballing the uncompleted fourth nuclear power plant, the government’s intention is to retire the existing three nuclear plants by 2025. That raises the question of whether it is possible to generate an additional 40 billion kWh of energy from renewable energy sources. But even if that can be done, it would merely keep carbon emissions at the current level rather than achieving the proposed 20% reduction.
Two major technical issues confront renewable power development in Taiwan. First, Taiwan’s power grid is isolated, not interconnected with those of any neighboring countries. As the availability of both wind and solar power varies with weather conditions and time of day, the proportion of wind and solar power in the total installed capacity must be kept limited in order to ensure the stability of the power grid. The second issue is capacity factor – how much power is actually generated over a period of time compared to the maximum designed output. The capacity factor for fossil and nuclear power can be higher than 80%, but it is just 15% for solar and 30% for wind power. Due to these technical constraints, it is questionable whether renewable energy could fill the 40 billion kWh gap that would be created if all nuclear power plants are retired.
Another factor to be considered is growth in power demand. Even if only very modest (<2%) annual power growth occurs, the increased demand by 2030 will come to more than 60 billion kWh. If most of this demand must be met by fossil power, fulfilling the INDC commitment becomes even more problematic. Even with life extensions of the existing nuclear power plants and operation of the fourth plant, Taiwan would still fall short of its carbon reduction goals.
INDC commitments cannot be taken lightly. Neither can the government’s responsibility to ensure an adequate energy supply. We urge the government to come up with a realistic energy plan that gives proper consideration to both carbon-reduction goals and national energy demand.