LCI visit to Yunlin County
The meeting was moderated by Su, Kong-chi, Director-General of Yunlin County's Economic Affairs Department. The speakers at the meeting were Cheng Chien-tsai, Head of Yunlin County's Commerce and Industry Administration under the Economic Affairs Department; Sabrina Schmidt-Koschella, Deputy Director-General of the German Institute Taipei and Bart Linssen, General Manager of Enercon Taiwan. The panel discussion after the presentations was moderated by Su Chun-hao, Vice Chair & Councilor of the Yunlin County Council. In addition to the speakers, the other panelists were Vincent Wu, Senior Vice President of KGI Bank and Chen Quen-hung, General Manager of Sinogreenergy.
Yunlin County is an ideal location for both solar and onshore wind energy. Besides abundant sunlight and wind, there are large tracts of land available for the development of solar energy, especially land that is no longer suitable for agriculture on account of land subsidence as a result of depletion of the water table. In what has been dubbed as the golden corridor, 1,266 hectares of land adjacent to Taiwan's high speed rail line has been identified as ideal for solar panels. Visitors were also taken to one of the windy areas along the coast near Mailiao that has been identified for further expansion of wind energy. There are already 23 wind turbines installed along the coast near Mailiao and 14 near Sifu in Yunlin County. Yunlin has a total of 41 wind turbines but there is room for many more.
In his opening remarks Magistrate Lee noted that the petrochemical complex and coal-fired power plants in Mailiao produce significant emissions and pollution. It is therefore necessary to increase the use of renewable energy. Yunlin has since 2011 been increasing both wind and solar energy capacity but this is not enough and efforts need to be increased.
In his remarks ECCT CEO Freddie Höglund noted that as the only foreign nationwide business chamber in Taiwan, the ECCT and its members welcomed the opportunity to expand cooperation with the Yunlin County government and explore business development in Yunlin, especially in the promising area of renewable energy.
The CEO went on to say that ECCT members welcome the government's decision to increase renewable energy capacity and to liberalise the electricity market in Taiwan and that he hoped that this would open the market and simplify the process for private operators to apply for, install and operate renewable energy facilities without undue restrictions. He added that a problem that has been holding back development is the slow permitting process for wind and solar energy. In this regard he welcomed the establishment of a single contact window aimed at simplifying the process for renewable energy, noting however that to be truly effective, the single contact window should be proactive in resolving problems by working with all related government agencies. He also mentioned that renewable energy not only provides business opportunities for many companies but also many jobs for the people of Yunlin in addition to a cleaner and healthier environment.
In his presentation Cheng Chien-tsai, noted that Yunlin has an average of 3.51 hours of strong sunlight per day annually, which makes the county one of Taiwan's best locations for solar energy. The Yunlin Country Government is committed to promoting both green energy and agriculture. The country has strong support from the national government given the national target of producing 20% of Taiwan's energy needs from renewables by 2025.
Yunlin set up an office to promote green energy in August this year. One of its major initiatives is to encourage owners of farms with livestock to install solar panels on the roofs of their buildings. Utilising the roofs of farm buildings not only takes advantage of unused space for solar energy, but also provides farmers with supplemental income by selling solar energy. In addition, since Yunlin is home to 25.9% of Taiwan's livestock farmers, there is great potential to utilize the manure from farm animals (including 1.44 million pigs) to produce biogas.
He also cited other good examples of solar rooftop developments, such as the one at Yunlin Elementary School, which not only generates 97 kilowatts of electricity but also serves as a good educational example for students.
In his presentation Bart Linssen spoke about the benefits of renewable energy and offered his vision of a "green highway" for renewable energy in Taiwan, covering the areas along Taiwan's two main highways and the high speed rail line. He noted that since 1984 the cost of wind energy has fallen by about 75%. Another advantage of wind turbines is that they need far less space than photovoltaic (PV or solar) panels to produce the same amount of electricity and take very little time to install – an average of three days.
According to Linssen, Taiwan has the potential space available to install at least 10 gigawatts (GW) of capacity at a cost very similar to coal-fired power plants. An added bonus of adopting this approach is that 1,000 jobs would be created just for the installation process. After initial installations wind turbines create further maintenance jobs (for technicians). Based on his company's experience, running 205 turbines employs 300 people in Taiwan.
An important factor for success in renewable energy development is to involve the local community. Linssen cited some successful examples in Europe that Taiwan would do well to follow. He said that almost half of renewable projects in Europe involve communities, which have an incentive to invest in the projects thanks to a higher feed-in tariff. Taiwan's main problem is the permit process, which can take from 5-10 years. For example, Taiwan requires a general Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for wind turbines, which takes about 14 months. However, he made the point that EIAs should only be necessary for environmentally-sensitive areas and should not be necessary for example in industry parks or along highways. It so happens that many of Taiwan's industry parks are located right near the west coast, where winds are strong, so they would be ideal locations for installing wind turbines. He therefore welcomed the support of the Yunlin County government for renewables.
On the question often cited of risks from earthquakes and typhoons, Linssen said 20 years of experience of frequent earthquakes and typhoons in Taiwan had not affected his company's turbines.
Portugal is a good example of how successful renewable energy can be. In May this year the country managed to run on renewable energy alone (a combination of wind, solar and hydro-electric power) for four consecutive days. Given Taiwan's ideal conditions for both wind and solar, Taiwan has the potential to be just as successful as Portugal.
In her presentation Sabrina Schmidt-Koschella introduced the "bio-energy" village of Jühnde in Germany. The village gets 100% of its energy needs from renewable sources and at least 50% of required heating is produced locally. The village even produces a surplus of energy which it sells to the utility and thereby earns income for local residents. Most of the energy is produced by biogas derived from manure from local pigs and cows and biomass (agricultural waste and wood chips).
Jühnde is cited as a model community not only because of the reduced impact on the environment but also because of reduced energy expenses, employment provided and its positive outward image.
The speaker noted that there were high initial costs in setting up biogas facilities while efforts were needed initially to gain the support of the local community. However, once these initial hurdles were overcome, what has been achieved is a sustainable source of energy and regular income for local residents from the sale of excess electricity.
In the panel discussion after the conclusion of the presentations, panelists engaged in a productive discussion on how to facilitate the development of renewable energy in Yunlin. All participants expressed a willingness to cooperate to share information and best practices and remove obstacles in order to stimulate a rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity in Yunlin.