Solar Power in Taiwan - What's happening?

This BBC News report has got me thinking about the lack of solar power installations once again.

FYI, I live in a large apartment block, >20 stories in sunny central Taiwan , we must get around 300 blue sky days a year here. To date I do not recall EVER having seen any solar installations anywhere in Taiwan except a showpiece right beside Kending’s Taipower operated nuclear reactor. I have seen individual panels on meter equipment but not full installation. Of course I know there are people using them, but the point is the numbers are so low that I haven’t personally seen any yet!

This is kind of crazy when you realise something like 12% of the solar panels/cells worldwide are manufactured in Taiwan. The panels are being exported to Germany and the UK etc where their efficiency in use is surely multiples less than Taiwan. Taiwan is manufacturing GWs of panels a year (loose rule of thumb I use, 1GW = 1 coal power station). Supposedly Germany has more residential solar panels installed than the rest of the world combined!

So here are a few things that would be nice to get some insight on

  • The report above claims that the installation can power all their electricity needs in the tower block and even sell energy on a hot day. I’m guessing that the difference is they don’t use air con in the UK.

It also claims that the residents ‘sell the electricity’ and get a ‘cheaper rate’, but of course that they don’t mention who pays for the solar equipment and the fact that all consumers must subsidise these residents for them to get a ‘cheaper rate’ or ‘sell electricity’.

However I’ve read that solar power generation is getting closer to parity with fossil fuels, especially in countries with more sunshine. The Taiwan government shows it’s shortsightedness by importing billions upon billions of USD of oil and coal every year instead of subsidising local manufacturers and installation of solar power instead. I believe it is massive corruption that is causing this, but I’d be happy to proved wrong by somebody more knowledgeable.

  • Some of the apartment blocks around here, including our own, have washing lines installed where people can dry their clothes, blankets, sheets etc? I think this is a fairly good and low tech and low cost way to use the sun’s energy instead of using electrically powered machines, plus the lack of sunlight surrounding some apartments makes it difficult to dry out these items for residents. Makes sense, but does it make more sense than having solar panels installed on the top?

  • Does anybody know of solar installations in residential blocks or offices in Taiwan?

Here’s an excerpt from a related article. … z2ZfQJn3gg

[quote]Another distinguishing feature between the two sides of the straits is domestic demand. While China is often cited as having huge demand potential, Taiwan’s demand has been notably weak. Out of a total installed world photovoltaic capacity of 38 GW, Taiwan plans for less than 70 megawatts in the coming year, and only 3.5 GW by 2020, when total grid capacity should exceed 65 GW. Does this reflect a lack of faith in their own product?

Perhaps, but it also reflects the peculiar politics of the island nation. Despite importing 99 percent of its energy, Taiwan’s government heavily subsidizes energy costs for consumers. Everyone from international environmental groups to power utilities say that Taiwan must raise the price of electricity to more accurately reflect the costs of production accrued by beleaguered Taipower, which has operated in the red for the past five years, and to stimulate energy conservation.

But when President Ma’s administration announced rate hikes to bring the prices more in line with costs, it was met with howls of protests from the opposition party, and the President was forced to rescind most of the increases. Taiwan actually offers an attractive feed-in tariff of about NT$8.00 (about US$.25) per watt, but the government is often seen as dragging its feet on solar power installation.[/quote]

What do people think of the logic here? I personally think it’s a perfect example of why Taiwan has stalled out. It doesn’t seem to be able to adjust local policies due to entrenched interests. If electricity prices were to go up even faster, workers would agitate for salary increases and the government would be more unpopular than it already is. Entrenched big business like refiners and steel and chemical manufacturers are stopping industrial and societal change.

At the same time, the government is losing billions of USD (of taxpayers money) to foreign exporters of fossil fuels and lining Taipower’s pockets, rather than create more jobs and keep more money circulating here in Taiwan AND adopt more environmentally friendly policies.

There’s one more factor, the apathetic attitude of the local population to the environment and global trends.

I met someone last weekend who has a company that partners up with factories or any buildings with a large roof space and then he installs solar panels on their roofs. They sign a contract, this guy gets all the financing, does all the installation and he sells the power to the power company. None of it is used by the factory or building but they get a share of the profits. So he is just renting their roof space. He did mention that it had to be up and running for a period of time before it became profitable but I can’t remember what that time period was. This is in Kaohsiung. Not sure if it is being done where you live.

I have wondered why there aren’t solar panels on top of the buildings here. Of course I know the answer but it seems that this would be a very logical direction to go during the next decade or two. Logic of course doesn’t really matter here unfortunately.

I’m not surprised that the building doesn’t use the power from the solar panels. I think this would require a very complex redesign of the entire building’s electrical system. It’s easier for the building to pull power from the grid and for the solar panels to feed the grid. This was the same way that it worked for my father’s ill-fated windmill. Apparently a con man was moving around the US selling barely functional used turbines.

I’m convinced that it would be extremely helpful for energy policy in Taiwan to increase electricity prices.

Every single day I see houses with aircons blasting at full power while all windows are open in the middle of the day. My inlaws are a great example. Doors and windows are left open during the whole day, while the aircons are going at full power. Then at night, they close up all the windows and doors. The exact opposite of my relatives living in Spain.

They also have large glass windows facing east and west, no roof over south-facing windows, black roof tiles, no trees to cover the east and west walls. No tall trees on the south side to provide shadow from the summer sun. And no attempts to make breezes flow through the house. Basically, not a single design element in their house to improve energy efficiency. And their house is a typical house in Taiwan.

Another example is electric cars. The island seems perfect for it considering its short distances and dense population. Electric cars could do wonders to reduce the pollution in Taiwan’s dense cities, but there is not a big benefit when the electricity to power these cars are generated by the coal power plants of Taiwan.

Lets face it, electric cars and scooters are unreliable. They don’t have the power to get you out of danger, which could mean the difference between crushed by a bus and no injury. Also the battery is expensive as hell. They’re just not popular at all.

Also I don’t know anyone who turns on the AC and leaves the window open. Maybe they’re rich or don’t care but everyone I know don’t even use the AC much at all. Electric rates are progressive, the more you use the more expensive they get, so saving a 10 or 20kwh might not seem like much but Taipower rewards those savings by giving a discount, and penalizing people who uses too much. Fact is solar power is expensive and how can anyone get a whole building to invest in them?

The first gasoline-powered cars were also unreliable. But gasoline cars have had 100 years to develop. Tesla is getting there, most likely in much less than 100 years. But there is really not much point to digress and discuss if gasoline cars has a superior driving experience or not. This thread is about energy, and the lack of solar power energy in Taiwan. As Taiwan does not have fossil energy reserves, electric vehicles would be the kind of vehicles that could run on locally produced energy. (Solar or other forms). Besides, vehicles that run on dinosaurs will sooner or later be as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Installing solar panels can be expensive, but I’d much rather see the government subsidies that are currently spent on reducing the cost of petrol be used to subsidize the installation of solar panels instead. The oil companies have had subsidies for many years. It’s time to turn the table and invest in local energy production. If cold Germany can make a return on investment from solar energy, so can tropical Taiwan. The how is simple. You make it worthwhile to install it.

So the discussion should be how to convince the government to take logical steps?

The reason why there are no solar panels in Taiwan is that people think they would make buildings uglier… :wink:

If the forth nuke power station in Gongliao is not going to put in operation and the other three old nuke power stations go offline in 2025 as planned Taiwan will face a serious shortage of energy supply and the need for new energy sources combined with better energy saving will be bigger than ever unless burning more fossil fuels is seen as a solution. Solar energy should play a big part in any future energy concept. I feel, in general, people in Taiwan are not much interested in these kind of things.

[quote=“Taiwan Luthiers”]Lets face it, electric cars and scooters are unreliable. They don’t have the power to get you out of danger, which could mean the difference between crushed by a bus and no injury. Also the battery is expensive as hell. They’re just not popular at all.

Also I don’t know anyone who turns on the AC and leaves the window open. Maybe they’re rich or don’t care but everyone I know don’t even use the AC much at all. Electric rates are progressive, the more you use the more expensive they get, so saving a 10 or 20kwh might not seem like much but Taipower rewards those savings by giving a discount, and penalizing people who uses too much. Fact is solar power is expensive and how can anyone get a whole building to invest in them?[/quote]

Huh? about electric cars are being unreliable and not having power. Actually they generally accelerate more quickly than ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. With an electric motor you get instant torque. A current Tesla model S sedan (the 85 kw version) runs about 3.9 seconds for 0-60 mph (read pretty much the same for 100 km/hr). Call me odd, but I think that is not exactly slow. The relatively simple drive train means they can actually be a lot more reliable than ICEs. Tesla’s model S has been getting a LOT of good press in recent months (eg last year Motor Trend magazine gave it their car of the year award). It seems they really have a lot of momentum building, but they are not sold in Taiwan even though they are in Japan, HK, Australia etc.

I agree that Taiwan is ideal for electric vehicles. With Tesla’s cars it would be possible to drive from Taibei/Taipei to Gaoxiong/Kaohsiung on one charge. I agree it is a sign of Taiwan’s stagnation that we don’t see more change in this direction. Bigsyd what was the company you mention? That sounds really interesting. I live in Kaohsiung/GaoXiong and have a very big roof (about 70 ping+) and horrible power bills (aircon for our restaurant). One thing I have seen that is interesting and a step in the right direction is that in recent times in Gaoxiong/Kaohisung I have seen a few charging stations for electric scooters, and I think I saw one for cars in 101 in Taipei. That said Taiwan of today seems at best very 2 steps/one step… and sometimes I am not sure if it is the one step or the 2 that is forward… They don’t really have much in the way of incentives for EV cars and that most people live in high rise buildings without EV charging stations can’t help. As much as I think an EV would be perfect for me (I do most of my driving in the city, no huge distance on one day, often stuck in traffic) I can’t see it happening any time soon. Most of the EV scooters here are notorious for terrible range and capacity to carry a fat foreigner… One thing to note though for EV cars, even with coal generation they are generally more enviromentaly friendly than ICEs because of the efficiency of electric motors compared with ICEs and because the coal plants need to operate 24/7, but EVs are mostly charged at night when power consumption tends to be lower.

How about setting up a 70 ping rooftop garden? You’ll get both shadow and extremely local food for your restaurant. Do it with aquaponics and it’ll be organic and you’ll get some fish as well.

That is true. I’d also add that while ICEs pollute in cities where people live, the coal plants pollute in areas with less people. The health costs are therefore lower as well.

Roof top garden… forget about it. 1) not near strong enough (it is basically a big tin shed). 2) it is right next to the ocean. In summer anything we try to grow (sometimes we try growing some things like mint used in cocktails out the back) tends to die really easily due to the salt air with water content being blown in.

Yes, I would like to see an end to subsidies everywhere, not just in Taiwan. The IMF says that governments subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of US$1.9 trillion a year.

[quote] Bigsyd what was the company you mention? That sounds really interesting. I live in Kaohsiung/GaoXiong and have a very big roof (about 70 ping+) and horrible power bills (aircon for our restaurant)[/quote].

Unfortunately, he was just someone I got into conversation with at the swimming pool. We didn’t even exchange names. The likelihood of me bumping into him again is rather remote, but if I do, I will be sure to ask him for a business card.

Sorry I can’t be of more help.

Quite. It’s weird how those myths get started, isn’t it? The ball’n’chain had a go at me the other day because I suggested we should dump her 15-year-old two-stroke smokebelcher and buy an electric scooter. Suddenly she was an expert on electric propulsion, and explained to me slowly and carefully why electric motors are completely useless (she apparently doesn’t realise the HSR is electrically powered). She’s right that many of the Taiwanese ones are useless, because they’re not intended as transport. Their only purpose is to snaffle a share of government handouts for the manufacturing company. There are some very good ones; but with one or two exceptions, they’re designed or manufactured by foreigners, and therefore don’t qualify for gov’t support :unamused:

Electric transport complements solar, because it provides the storage that solar needs to work effectively. Static batteries are all very well, but they’re expensive and environmentally unfriendly. If we had distributed solar arrays everywhere, a quick recharge would be easy, and billing could be arranged to encourage people to top up on sunny days.

Man I hear you! I’ve always thought Taiwan offered the ideal test case for electrification of personal transport. In addition to the nonsense sighted about acceleration, the other criticsism I hear about electric vechicles is they are unsage due to being to quiet. Totaly mitigated in this case, by the Taiwanese love affair with the horn.

You forget that trains and high speed rail are powered by wire, which is why they have that picker upper thing on top. If trains had to run on batteries it wouldn’t run very well at all. But the key is battery… they run down and when you’re almost out of juice, the scooter runs very slowly, too slow to be driven safely on the road. The battery also costs a lot and are not environmentally friendly.

The reason why Germany uses so many solar panels is because the German government gives generous subsidies for their installation
The reason why Taiwan exports so many solar panels is because the German government gives generous subsidies for their installation

The German subsidies have been pretty notorious in having had the detrimental effect of reducing supply of solar panels from tropical areas where they would have been most effective to the temperate areas of Germany.

Anyway, buy now supply will have caught up with demand and there should be more panels available.

There are no doubt some shitty Taiwanese scooters that simply use a brush DC motor connected to a battery with the same voltage rating, but the more usual configuration sets the minimum battery voltage somewhat higher than the nominal motor voltage, which allows you full power at low battery. Some cars use a bidirectional boost converter to (a) mitigate this particular problem and (b) allow efficient regeneration back into the battery.

But that’s largely a problem with charge-station availability, and people’s insistence on human-controlled vehicles (the latter is something I rant about at length). If vehicles were automated so they could take themselves off for recharge when required, small batteries and short recharge intervals wouldn’t be an issue. Even assuming we stick with scooters, if you could be assured of a charge station wherever it is you’re going, batteries can be correspondingly smaller (allowing for the battery charge/discharge rate limit, of course). Of course, if we had an all-electric transport infrastructure, then we could also provide picker upper thingies, no?

Recycling is certainly an issue. I’ve tested most cell chemistries and come up against this problem - manufacturers do not design for recyclability, and nobody is really trying to develop efficient processes for recycling (say) lithium cells. At this point, I advocate lead-acid. They’re extremely easy to recycle, the modern varieties have better charge/discharge performance, and of course they’re very cheap.

Greenmark: I agree. Germany should not be subsidising solar. Most of those panels probably do not achieve energy payback (or financial payback).

Me too. It has all the right features.

That one REALLY riles me; I hate vehicle noise. Vehicles are unsafe if they are driven in an unsafe manner. Again, automation would solve that particular problem.

Perhaps you should write to Frau Merkel about this… Many Americans agree that subsidy is a bad idea to begin with… like heavily subsidized farming in the US.

I do not have a scooter and honestly don’t really feel they are needed in Taipei with such good public transport. But since people insist on their own vehicle to give themselves freedom maybe one thing that can be done to reduce pollution is to make public transport extremely cheap and offset them by charging a higher fuel tax on a per vehicle basis (fuel tax is charged per vehicle already) to discourage people from using their own vehicle. Perhaps a road congestion tax in cities would also further encourage people to use public transport. Like make public transport (Bus and MRT) a flat rate per month or something… and encourage bicycle use.

I don’t agree with the theory that Germany’s enthusiasm for solar panels has reduced supply in tropical countries, in fact it should have the complete opposite effect, causing factories to ramp up capacity , attracting large investments and bringing the cost of panels down, and in fact this is what happened, to such a degree that there is worldwide over capacity at present.

In fact if there is a textbook case where subsidies have worked to bring down costs per unit for a specific product, it would be solar (or wind) power!

The same can happen with electric vehicles with a combination of subsidies and increased investment, costs for batteries are expected to halve in ten years. When costs plummet for both solar panels and electric batteries, now you have a technological system that starts to make a lot of sense. The best way to reduce costs is simply to expand industrial capacity.

Solar power should be more useful in tropical countries, but it’s no use at all if people can’t afford to purchase panels in the first place or if governments are corrupt and they favour other energy sources for their own reasons.