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Taiwan poised to blaze a trail in renewable energy

Taipei, Taiwan — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 28 February 2011 – Taiwan is set to blaze a trail in renewable energy development with its major policy initiatives that are designed to exploit the country’s extensive renewable resources.

The island state sees renewable energy as an important route to greater security of supply than is possible through its current heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels.

After an 8-year delay, in mid-2009 Taiwan finally passed its Renewable Energy Development Act (REDA) “’ the key legislative framework that it hoped would kick-start a boom in renewable development in the nation of 23 million people.

The act consists of a familiar mixture of obligations and incentives that are designed to achieve a 16% share of installed capacity for renewable energy by 2025, against an estimated 8% in 2010, according to figures from Taiwan’s Bureau of Energy (BoE).

The most startling expected growth figure cited in the BoE’s long-term renewable energy targets is in PV capacity, which it expects to increase from just 19 MW in 2010 to 2GW 15 years later.

However, the solar feed-in tariff has already been the subject of controversy, and whatever the merits of both sides of the argument, the controversy reflects the slower than expected progress in solar since REDA was enacted. “As little as 10% of the MW capacity of project agreements signed is estimated to have actually been installed last year,” says Thomas Maslin, a senior analyst specialising in solar power for IHS Emerging Energy Research.

All of this does not detract from Taiwan’s ongoing success story as a technology producer for PV installations across the rest of the world, and Maslin believes that the island will continue to rely on demand in Europe and North America for the foreseeable future.

Even though he observes a slight price disadvantage to Chinese competitors, Maslin says Taiwan remains competitive in the global market and has a lot going for it.

If Taiwan’s PV success is likely to stay centred around exports, it has significant ambitions for its most obvious natural asset – the oceans that surround it and the winds that blow there.

Offshore wind power is central to Taiwan’s renewable energy project, says a spokeswoman for the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), the Taiwanese government’s technical arm. “Renewable energy in Taiwan for the most part will be offshore wind power,” she adds.

The nation’s industrial sector announced its offshore ambitions at the end of 2010 with the formation of the Taiwan Offshore Wind Power Alliance – made up of 18 companies from the region’s energy, engineering and manufacturing sectors – and plans to set up Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm in Changhua County, according to local reports. Commercial operations are due to begin in the second quarter of 2013 with its first two 5 MW turbines. If all goes to plan, these will be joined by a further 122 machines by the end of 2016.

Late 2010 also saw the Taiwanese government unveil its own plans for an 8 MW offshore wind demonstration project off the Penghu Islands, to be operational by the end of 2012. Penghu – a cluster of 90 small islands off the western coast of the Taiwanese mainland – is set to become something of a showcase for the country’s renewable and low carbon credentials.

The government has pledged support to turn Penghu into Taiwan’s first low-emission county by 2015. Plans include 96 MW of onshore wind capacity, solar energy initiatives and the creation of recharging infrastructure for electric mobility.

Penghu will also play a major role in Taiwan’s efforts to harness ocean energy, a high priority technology for the government and ITRI. The national target is for a 200 MW installed capacity by 2025.