John Mathews and Mei-Chih Hu
Taiwan is presently wracked by debate over the prospect of a referendum on the country’s Fourth Nuclear Power facility, currently under construction but subject to a ban on further works. The debate is focused on the risks of nuclear power on an earthquake-prone island (with reference to the Fukushima disaster in Japan) and the supposed cost of moving off a nuclear trajectory in terms of electricity prices and reliability of supply. It has also become side-tracked by a long debate over the legalities of the referendum process in Taiwan, and whether the present government is to be trusted in the framing of the referendum question(s).
What is missing in this debate is the recognition that Taiwan has more to gain in promoting renewable energy industries than in sticking with the nuclear option, both in terms of energy security and in terms of creating jobs and building export platforms for tomorrow. Taiwan is justifiably proud of its achievement in building three ‘pillar industries’ in semiconductors, flat panel displays and PCs. Now it should be getting ready to add a fourth pillar industry of comparable potential success – concentration solar power (CSP) plants, solar PV, wind power, and wider renewable energy sources – utilizing all the institutional and entrepreneurial strategies perfected in Taiwan’s earlier development.
Taiwan’s nuclear industry is four decades old; construction of the first reactor began in 1972. The country’s six nuclear reactors now provide 19% of Taiwan’s electric energy, from a capacity base of 4.9 GW, or 11% of Taiwan’s installed power generating capacity. Altogether there are six reactors, operating at three sites – Chinshan 1 and 2; Kuosheng 1 and 2; and Manshan 1 and 2. Two of the reactors are Westinghouse pressurised water reactors (PWRs) and four are General Electric (GE) boiling water reactors– the kind that succumbed at Fukushima in Japan. The reactor designs date from the 1950s. The fourth nuclear facility projected, at Lungmen [Gongliao, New Taipei City], is designed to consist of two 1350 MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR), sourced once again from GE-Hitachi (reactors) and from Mitsubishi (turbines). While ABWR technology is Generation III, apart from the contracting business involved in actually building the reactor, there is very little Taiwan contribution or spin-off from the technology. No doubt there has been considerable pressure from American sources to ensure that Taiwan continues to implement US-made nuclear technology. This is where the contrast with a ‘Taiwan-first’renewables industrial strategy would be most telling.
The nuclear facilities are all operated by Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), the state utility with monopoly control of generating facilities. Taipower is clearly deeply committed to nuclear power – and so if Taiwan is to pursue an industrial strategy independent of nuclear power, then alternative entrepreneurial sources need to be developed. This too would be an important aspect of developing a domestic Taiwan market for renewable energy sources, through the use of instruments such as feed-in tariffs, which have proven their worth in Germany and are now being trialled in a serious way in China and, on a smaller scale, in Japan.
The contribution of renewables to Taiwan’s current energy mix is woefully low, making Taiwan a severe laggard in moving to a new green development model. Power generation in 2012 involved over 99% reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear. This is a sorry record that does not stand up to comparison with China and Germany, as we demonstrate now.