A Low-Carbon Green Island

Qimei's Smart Power Grid

2019 / June

Esther Tseng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell

Qimei, an island of the Penghu archipelago, a placee where the sea and sky merge into one, has strong sunshine in summer and powerful monsoon winds in winter. These attributes provide opportunities to develop both solar and wind power, and through storage and distribution via a smart power grid, Qimei can be transformed into a low-carbon green energy island.

When you visit the unique landscape of Qi­mei Island, located at the southernmost tip of the ­Penghu archipelago, you will find “Little Taiwan,” a platform shaped by sea erosion, which at low tide looks like the island of Taiwan. There is also the “Basalt Lion,” which stands by the seashore looking out into the white spray. You can see nature’s magical handiwork in many places around the island.

A particular attraction is the “Twin-Heart Stone Weir,” which was built by fishermen of yesteryear out of basalt and coral rocks to trap fish by the action of the rising and falling tides. They lived off the sea and were dependent on it. Today, as a result of climate change, there are fewer fish, and the Twin-Heart Stone Weir has instead become a romantic location where lovers check in on social media.

In the 1980s, when fish were abundant, the island had more than 7000 residents. Today, with fisheries resources facing exhaustion, locals can no longer make a living from the sea, and the number of households on Qi­mei has dropped to 1000-plus. Well over 3000 people have their official domicile there, but the majority have moved to Taiwan proper to work. In the peak summer tourist season, 2000‡3000 tourists pour in each day, outnumbering local residents.

The ultimate wisdom for survival is sustainability. Facing the risks and opportunities brought by climate change, the “Qi­mei Smart Grid” project not only offers a solution to the problem of sustainability with green energy and reduced carbon emissions, it has become a trial and demonstration project for the development of green energy technology throughout Taiwan.

High costs for offshore power

On Qi­mei, every kilowatt-hour (kWh) used by households includes green energy generated by photovoltaic solar panels.

In the control room of the Qi­mei Power Plant of the Taiwan Power Company (Tai­power), the displays on the control panel can be understood at a glance. At 10:10 a.m., the electric load across Qi­mei is 919.9 kilowatts (kW). To meet this demand, 225.7 kW of green energy is being generated by photovoltaic panels, and 756.1 kW is being supplied by diesel generators.

Plant director Chen Yung-tsung, who was born on Qi­mei, says with unhurried assurance that the electricity supplied by Qi­mei’s independent power system comes mainly from diesel generators. At present there are four such generators, each one capable of producing 1000 kW of power. No shortfall should be expected in the power supply for at least the next ten years. For example, last year peak demand was 1750 kW, and total consumption was 7.8 million kWh. The cost of supplying this power was NT$130 million.

He further explains that because Qi­mei is an offshore island, the diesel fuel for power generation must be transported over from Taiwan, and fuel costs are high, resulting in a cost of NT$12 for each kWh generated on Qi­mei. But the charge to consumers is the same as on Taiwan proper, at NT$2 per kWh (the more power one uses, the higher the price, also just as on Taiwan proper). This means that Taipower loses NT$10 per kWh sold.

A low-carbon green energy island

Lee Wen-bing, deputy director of the Department of Renewable Energy at Taipower, states that in view of the high cost of diesel-generated power on offshore islands, Taipower, in coordination with the National Energy Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology, is constructing a low-carbon smart grid demonstration system on Qi­mei. Run by Professor Chen Chao-shun of I-Shou University, the project marks a step forward in transforming Qi­mei into a low-carbon green energy island.

An array of solar panels has been installed on Qi­mei’s second highest hill, with a peak generating capacity of 355 kW. Because solar power can only be generated during daylight hours and the amount generated is greatest when skies are clear, the mismatch between peak generating times and peak demand will be adjusted via an energy storage system and a smart energy management system.

In 2019, Taipower plans to add 340 kW of wind power capacity and an energy storage system of 300 kWh. When construction is completed in 2020, electricity generated from renewable sources will account for over 40% of total power consumption on the island, maximizing the proportion of green power generation on Qimei.

Seen from the perspective of cost of supply and reliability, green energy requires a high level of investment, and is dependent on the weather. The supply is not fully reliable, so it will still be necessary to use diesel generators to produce electricity. But in terms of green energy and carbon reduction, whenever power is generated by coal or oil, greenhouse gases are produced. In Taiwan, each kWh of energy produced using coal or oil results in the emission of 0.528 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

The green energy industry

Chen Wei-lin, division manager of the Smart Meter Business Unit at the Ta­tung Company, which is handling the second phase of construction of the solar energy system on Qi­mei, notes that the green energy produced on Qi­mei will replace 480,000 kWh of power from diesel generators, which amounts to a reduction of 253 metric tons of carbon emissions, a carbon reduction equivalent to planting 20,000 trees. Beside this carbon reduction, each year diesel fuel costs can be reduced by NT$4.62 million, along with further savings in the cost of transportation and storage of diesel fuel and associated labor costs.

The design of the mixed diesel and solar power generation and storage system being built on Qi­mei as a collaborative project between Tai­power and Ta­tung in fact has its origins in disaster preparedness in remote areas of Taiwan proper. The microgrids already installed in Ping­tung County’s Lin­bian Township, which was ravaged by Typhoon Mo­ra­kot, and in the Fu­shan area of New Tai­pei City’s Wu­lai District, can operate autonomously in the event that another major disaster cuts off their power supply. They would have 72 and 10 hours of power respectively, operating as “isolated islands” and providing power needed for disaster relief and human survival.

However, the “isolated island” model can also be applied to offshore islands. At the southernmost end of Taiwan’s territory are the Dong­sha (Pratas) Islands, 445 kilometers from the port of Kao­hsiung, and Tai­ping Island, 1600 kilometers away. For many years both have required shipments of diesel fuel to generate electricity, but through microgrid power generation, solar power can be used to provide a water supply. Such measures reduce the cost of delivering diesel fuel for power generation and of shipping in drinking water.

Shining a light on other lands

Until some seven decades ago Qimei had no electric power at all, and it has had a 24-hour supply only since 1984. Providing electricity has proven to be an arduous and expensive exercise. But today many locations around the world are still without a power supply, including numer­ous small islands in Southeast-Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia, or remote com­mu­nit­ies in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere.

In 2015 Tatung built a solar power generating station in a remote location in Myanmar, which it donated to the local community. In 2018 the company began building a micro­grid system like that used on Qimei on a small island in the Philippines, 100 kilometers from Manila. It is expected to be completed this year, and will likewise achieve the goals of reducing the amount of diesel fuel burned for power genera­tion, and reducing carbon emissions.

Qimei is Taiwan’s first offshore island where a smart grid is being set up combining diesel-fuel power genera­tion with solar power and other renewable energies. It will provide a firm foundation for the development of carbon-reduction technology in Taiwan. With the island of Qimei in the vanguard, Taiwan can advance toward being a low-carbon nation.

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