Taiwan's power supply system unable to withstand minor errors: expert - Focus Taiwan

Taiwan's power supply system unable to withstand minor errors: expert

Tatan Power Plant
Tatan Power Plant

Taipei, Aug. 15 (CNA) A civilian group said on Tuesday that Taiwan's "concentrative" power grid must be restructured into a "scattering" power generating and supply system to avoid any repeat of a nationwide power outage caused by a relatively minor human error at a power plant in Taoyuan.

Hung Shen-han (洪申翰), deputy secretary-general of Green Citizens' Action Alliance, said Tuesday's sudden power outage underscored the fragility of the existing power system. He warned that any further errors could collapse the entire power system which is already operating under conditions of tight supply.

A worker at Tatan Power Plant in Guanyin, Taoyuan, mistakenly shut off a natural gas supply valve for two minutes, causing all six generators at the plant to stop working and cutting supply by more than 4 million kilowatts of power.

The stoppage went on to affect a seventh generator at a Taichung power plant, removing 4.65 million kw in output from the power grid and affecting 6.68 million households across the island.

"This was just a minor mistake on the part of CPC Corp., Taiwan (the oil refiner that operates the Tatan plant) and yet it caused a massive disruption that impacted so many private consumers within the power grid," Hung said.

Noting that this was the third power supply disruption of the year, Hung questioned why Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), the nation's sole power supplier, has not learned from its difficulties.

It is high time that Taipower and CPC Corp. began to change their "concentrative" power generating and supply network into one that operates differently, he said.

Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), founder of Nuclear MythBusters (核能流言終結者), said Tuesday's widespread power outage was due mainly to low reserve capacity, a chronic problem plaguing Taiwan in the wake of protests against nuclear power and the resulting reduction in nuclear power generation.

"If we had higher levels of power reserves, we would be able to shut down the whole Tatan plant now for a complete check and maintenance," Huang added.

Taiwan's power supply has been so tight that human error on a single generator can cause all power supply to grind to a halt and yet the government still refuses to admit the country faces a power shortage crisis, he said.

He pointed out that natural gas-fired power plants now produce over 30 percent of Taiwan's power supply, but the entire stock of LNG (liquefied natural gas) is only enough to last for seven days.

If the government goes ahead with its plan to boost the share of LNG-generated power to more than 50 percent, it must consider the possibility of such imports being disrupted by typhoons which stop vessels from entering Taiwan ports as scheduled.

The supply of coal, another major source of power generation, lasts one month per shipment, compared to 18-36 months for imported nuclear energy sources, he said.

He advised policy makers to look hard at the power supply problems facing the nation -- problems he said are so grave they already constitute a safety crisis in the national energy supply system that could easily evolve into a national security crisis.

Lin Por-fong (林伯豐), chairman of the Taipei-based Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (CNAIC), and other industry leaders also advised the government to accept the nation faces a power shortage and reconsider the use of nuclear power instead of pursuing its "nuclear-free homeland" project at any cost.

Academics, such as Sun Ming-te at Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, expressed concern that repeated power outages will scare away investors and affect the willingness of those already setting up shop to operate long-term in Taiwan.

Lin Hsi-ming (林錫銘), a board member of the Allied Association for Science Park Industries (台灣科學工業園區科學工業同業公會), said that although Tuesday's outage did not affect high-tech companies in Hsinchu, it would still dent investor confidence in the stable supply of power in Taiwan.

"The government should hold someone accountable for this and mete out punishments where they are due," Lin said.

Currently, the minister of economic affairs has stepped down, the first head to roll in the wake of the power black-out.

(By Tsai Yi-chu, Chen Cheng-wei, S.C. Chang)


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