Ex­pan­sion of so­lar power her­alds op­por­tu­ni­ties, chal­lenges

So­lar energy trel­lises dot­ting farm­land have formed a “crop and energy farm­ing eco­sphere” that only stands to get big­ger with the im­mi­nent in­sti­tu­tion of elec­tric­ity lib­er­al­iza­tion.

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY LIANG-RONG CHEN

Tai­wan’s only ex­pert in “cli­mate pol­i­tics,” Tze-Luen Alan Lin, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity (NTU), sits in the univer­sity’s fac­ulty lounge, look­ing hag­gard from the strain and ex­cite­ment of the re­cent birth of his sec­ond child. But when he sees the Com­mon­Wealth re­porter, he be­comes an­i­mated as he rel­ishes in de­scrib­ing his latest plan.

Long ac­tive in anti-nu­clear cam­paigns, Lin got to­gether with other like-minded NTU alumni to form Green Dot Com­mu­ni­ties, a com­pany that in­stalls free rooftop so­lar pan­els for old age homes. The firm will de­rive its in­come by shar­ing in the money de­rived from selling power gen­er­ated by the pan­els. At present they have reached co­op­er­a­tive agree­ments with two old age homes in north­ern Tai­wan.

“A sim­i­lar con­cept, known as ‘energy wel­fare,’ has been adopted in other coun­tries,” ex­plains Lin. His com­pany’s is the latest, most un­usual model for so­lar en- ergy com­pa­nies — the hottest new in­dus­try in Tai­wan at the mo­ment.

Ob­ser­vant pas­sen­gers on Tai­wan’s high-speed rail line will have no­ticed in the past year or two a grow­ing num­ber of so­lar pan­els ap­pear­ing, sparkling in the sun­light on roofs in ru­ral ar­eas.

In ru­ral Ping­tung and Yun­lin coun­ties, one can even see bill­boards read­ing, “Turn your roof into a cash ma­chine.”

Re­new­able Energy on the Rise

The winds have qui­etly shifted. In late July, the Ex­ec­u­tive Yuan un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced that it had pur­chased an ad­di­tional 230 megawatts of so­lar- gen­er­ated power this year, tak­ing the yearly to­tal to 500 MW, 85 per­cent more than last year.

At about the same time, the elec­tric­ity in­dus­try lib­er­al­iza­tion that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists had pushed for more than a decade was right on the hori­zon.

In mid-July, the Ex­ec­u­tive Yuan passed a draft re­vi­sion of the Elec­tric­ity Act. The new law breaks Taipower’s mo­nop­oly on elec­tric power, al­low­ing elec­tric­ity providers to com­pete freely. Judg­ing by the ex­pe­ri­ence of other coun­tries, this move is ex­pected to fur­ther stim­u­late the growth of so­lar energy and other emerg­ing modes of energy gen­er­a­tion.

“Ev­ery­thing has re­ally moved so quickly lately that I’ve hardly even had time to think about what’s go­ing on,” says a very pleased Lin.

For Lin, who has at­tended an­nual United Na­tions Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence sev­eral years in a row, the gov­ern­ment’s flurry of green energy pol­icy moves was per­fectly timed.

Lin re­lates that a ma­jor break­through is ex­pected to tran­spire at this year’s U.N. cli­mate sum­mit in Paris in De­cem­ber, as na­tions are ex­pected to reach a con­sen­sus on a green­house emis­sions plat­form sim­i­lar to the Ky­oto Pro­to­col. Pro­fes­sor Lin be­lieves that a host of emis­sions re­duc­tion-re­lated mech­a­nisms, in­clud­ing car­bon (diox­ide) pric­ing and trad­ing, will be­come re­al­ity, greatly boost­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of re­new­able energy.

The Bureau of Energy (Min­istry of Eco­nomic Af­fairs, MOEA) in­tro­duced the Mil­lion Sunny Rooftops Pro­ject three years ago, set­ting off a cas­cade of new energy star­tups. The in­stalled ca­pac­ity of so­lar power fa­cil­i­ties has dou­bled ev­ery year since then, and 581 MW of in­stalled ca­pac­ity was in place through­out Tai­wan as of June ac­cord­ing to Taipower sta­tis­tics.

And the Ex­ec­u­tive Yuan’s latest pro­nounce­ment is that it aims to add an ad­di­tional 500 MW of in­stalled ca­pac­ity ev­ery year in the fu­ture.

The cur­rent tar­get is for the in­stalled ca­pac­ity of pho­to­voltaic (PV) in­stal­la­tions around Tai­wan to reach 8700 MW by 2030. If achieved, it will ac­count for 30 per­cent of the is­land’s to­tal in­stalled power ca­pac­ity.

For Farm­ers, a Source of

Sta­bil­ity

The ro­bust de­vel­op­ment of so­lar power has even led to a sphere of pros­per­ity be­tween agri­cul­ture and elec­tric­ity across the agri­cul­tural ar­eas of Cen­tral and South­ern Tai­wan. For in­stance, not far from the Tai­wan high-speed rail line in Yun­lin County’s Paochung Town­ship, a brand new “so­lar chicken coop” was com­pleted early this year. The struc­ture, oc­cu­py­ing an area equiv­a­lent to two bas­ket­ball courts and made from cor­ru­gated alu­minum, was de­signed to ac­com­mo­date rooftop so­lar bat­ter­ies, tilt­ing in a southerly di­rec­tion.

Over the next 20 years, the 0.49-megawatt ca­pac­ity in­stal­la­tion will bring coop owner Chen Chu-tsai over NT$4 mil­lion per year in “elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion” fees from Taipower. Ac­count­ing for in­stal­la­tion costs, de­pre­ci­a­tion and amor­ti­za­tion, and in­ter­est, Chen stands to profit by more than NT$2 mil­lion a year.

Chen re­lates that when the prices are good, the coop - which houses over 30,000 chick­ens har­vested for their meat — can make him NT$2 mil­lion to NT$3 mil­lion a year. But when the mar­ket is down, like when a bird flu out­break struck early this year, “a lot of (poul­try farm­ers) were put out of house and home,” he says.

The ben­e­fits of the agri­cul­ture and elec­tric­ity eco­sphere are plain to see. An ad­di­tional sta­ble in­come from green energy can help farm­ers, who are vul­ner­a­ble to the whims of the weather, achieve eco­nomic se­cu­rity even in lean years.

In coun­tries that be­gan pro­mot­ing so­lar power long be­fore Tai­wan, such as Ger­many and Ja­pan, “so­lar energy farms” have long been a hot topic.

In ad­di­tion to pro­duc­ing crops, the era of fields “har­vest­ing” energy is dawn­ing. These changes prompted Nikkei Tech­nol­ogy to de­clare in 2013 that “the con­cept of ‘agri­cul­ture’ is set to un­dergo a fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion.”

A num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als in Ping­tung and Yun­lin have taken these no­tions to heart and put them into prac­tice, fur­ther hop­ing to at­tract young peo­ple back to the coun­try­side to work in agri­cul­ture.

How­ever, Chen Chu-tsai’s ap­pli­ca­tion to build three more so­lar chicken coops ear­lier this year was de­nied by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, due to sus­pi­cion of en­gag­ing in false advertising.

AFP

A man takes a photo next to so­lar energy power sys­tems de­vel­oped by Tai­wan’s state-run In­sti­tute of Nu­clear Energy Re­search in Taoyuan, Jan. 18, 2008. The tech­nol­ogy re­duces by a large amount the quan­tity of so­lar cells be­ing used, meet­ing the tar­get of rais­ing ef­fi­ciency and cut­ting down costs.

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