Taiwan is getting soaked. Heavy rains and storms have started battering the country, disrupting railways, grounding flights and flooding streets.
Notorious typhoons are soon to follow, and 2017 could be “extra intense” due to climate change. There is a 63% probability that the region’s 2017 typhoon count will be “above average”, Forbes quoted the British forecasting consortium Tropical Storm Risk as saying.
How does a country that has to tackle such extreme weather conditions ensure uninterrupted power to its citizens? The answer lies in microgrids, Chen Yen-Haw, Deputy Secretary-General of the Taiwan Smart Grid Industry Association, tells GovInsider on the sidelines of the Asian Utility Week conference on 24-25 May.
Wet weather plans
Microgrids are small-scale power grids that can operate independently from the main electrical station. These microgrids can support distributed energy resources—both traditional and renewable energy—and multiple electrical loads, but operates as a single power grid.
Essentially, a microgrid is a smaller version of the traditional electrical grid and works independently of, or interconnected with, a larger existing power network. If a typhoon takes out the main grid, these localised stations “become a backup system,” as they come equipped with their own energy storage capacity, Chen says.
In the mountainside villages of Taiwan, typhoons and heavy rains caused by climate change can damage the distribution grid and cut off power, Chen says. In extreme weather conditions like these, villagers could go days without power. “That’s why Taipower [the state-owned Taiwan Power Company] is now using microgrid technology in the mountain-area villages,” he explains. The microgrid of a local village can draw energy from a nearby wind farm, for example.
Taipower is also constructing microgrids in Taipei, the capital city, and on the surrounding remote islands such as Tai-Ping Island and Dong-Ji Island, Penghu County. “For Taipei city, the new concept is to build in public housing—the ground floor and the second floor become the microgrid,” Chen says. There will also be microgrids in parks and schools; this year, Chen’s team will be building three microgrids in senior high and elementary schools, he adds.
“The new concept is to build in public housing—the ground floor and the second floor become the microgrid.”
A big area of focus for the current government is to implement demand side management in the big cities, says Chen. Demand side management involves schemes where customers are encouraged to lower or shift their electricity use at peak times through financial incentives. “Government is also pushing very hard in demand side management; we built a demand side bidding platform,” he explains.
As more and more homes in Taiwan are equipped with smart meters—the government wants to install 200,000 in residences next year—the microgrid enables this “dynamic pricing”, leading to reduced energy consumption and lower costs, Chen adds.
Renewable energy is one of the cornerstones of President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration, with the government allocating approximately NT$1.4 trillion (~US$44.3 billion) for developing 20 GW of installed solar photovoltaics and 3 GW of offshore wind power by 2025, reported Taiwan Business Topics.
This spending was part of amendments to the Electricity Act, approved in October last year. Microgrids help to increase the usage of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind power and solar photovoltaic cells—another big focus for the government, according to Chen.
Through these amendments, President Tsai hopes to also eliminate nuclear power, according to the Taiwan Business Topics report. At present, 16% of Taiwan’s generation capacity is supplied by three nuclear power plants, which are now slated to be decommissioned, according to Chen. “Our energy transition challenge is, we try to close all nuclear power plants in ten years,” he explains, adding that the new act calls for a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025.
“Our energy transition challenge is, we try to close all nuclear power plants in ten years.”
As Taiwan moves ahead with these overhauls to the power grid and energy mix, a little wet weather—or a lot—is much less likely to affect power supply in the near future.