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INTERVIEW/Taipower grid resilience plan to give science parks direct power supply

04/25/2024 08:58 PM
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Taipower Vice President Tsai Chih-meng explains how solar and wind power came to rescue on April 3 when the earthquake knocked off four power generating sets across Taiwan in this undated photo. Photo: CNA
Taipower Vice President Tsai Chih-meng explains how solar and wind power came to rescue on April 3 when the earthquake knocked off four power generating sets across Taiwan in this undated photo. Photo: CNA

Taipei, April 25 (CNA) A string of aftershocks weeks after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Taiwan on April 3 has raised concerns over the stability of Taiwan's electricity supply, as cases of outages have continued in places not immediately impacted by the temblor.

Although neither Tuesday's aftershocks nor the April 3 earthquake halted the power supply in Taiwan's science parks, where its main semiconductor industry is based, many still wonder whether the grid is strong enough to withstand future unexpected hazards.

The worry looms large, especially when recent aftershocks resulted in some workers being evacuated from clean rooms in some of the plants at the science parks.

In a recent interview with CNA, Taipower Vice President Tsai Chih-meng (蔡志孟) noted that the company began implementing projects to strengthen the power supply to science parks in 2022 and has a goal of securing a direct power supply link.

A 10-year plan costing more than NT$560 billion (US$17.2 billion) has been proposed for grid resilience reinforcement, 77 percent of which has been earmarked for "dispersion" work that aims to decentralize the power grid, according to Taipower.

Direct power supply to science parks

The dispersion work includes building the infrastructure needed to directly supply power to the country's seven industrial and science parks (located in New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung), Tsai noted, adding that this will ensure supply is not interrupted by damage elsewhere in the grid.

"We know that for extremely delicate fabs, a sudden voltage dip can be as disruptive and unacceptable as a power outage," he said.

Taipower will compartmentalize the power generated from five different plants and then directly supply it to respective science and industrial parks, he added.

Direct supply means not sharing transmission lines with ordinary consumers, Tsai explained, adding that new transmission lines, towers and electrical substations will be specially set up for use by the science parks.

As companies in the parks and their satellite factories have been crucial for Taiwan's economy, Tsai said, "We knew from the start, when the industrial parks were built decades ago, that the [power supply for] them required special planning."

"And you see the importance of this rise given TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) now consumes what a major city does, and it's increasing," he added.

In 2022, TSMC's global electricity usage was about 21 billion kWh and more than 90 percent of its production capacity was in Taiwan. In comparison, the total consumption of Taipei City in the same year was about 15.3 billion kWh.

Given the tech industry's need for a stable power supply, Tsai said Taipower had equipped the parks with a "double bus double breaker" to ensure power flow.

A double bus double breaker is an electrical design that provides redundancy and high reliability for power transmission.

He added that tech companies have also made additional investments, such as installing dynamic uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems, to ensure a stable power supply.

Diversifying renewable and transmission hubs

Direct power supply for science parks is only one aspect of the more comprehensive plan to fortify Taiwan's power grid, which now relies on three main arteries that all go through three particular extra-high voltage substations located in the north, central and south of the country, Taipower said.

The April 3 earthquake, in terms of its damage to the power supply, could be considered an example of "nature's benevolence" as it struck off the island's coast rather than on land like the Sept. 21 earthquake 25 years ago, Tsai said.

The much more destructive earthquake in 1999 wrecked the extra-high voltage substation located in Nantou County -- which is also the central hub of the three arteries -- and sent half of the country into darkness.

One of the aims of the 10-year dispersion plan is to turn the three substations/hubs into three groups of substations by adding nodes to them, according to Taipower.

Renewable energy, on the other hand, has just as important a role in lowering the chance of the power system systematically failing, Tsai said.

As the over-centralization of the transmission grid stems from the challenge of identifying suitable locations for building new power plants in the densely populated island due to a "not-in-my-backyard" sentiment, Tsai said that dispersed renewable power sources could help alleviate the pressure of finding space for new mega coal-based thermal power plants.

He added that solar and wind power had come to the rescue on April 3, when the earthquake resulted in power outages that affected more than 300,000 households.

The rescue was made possible in part due to energy storage systems, which have received more investment in recent years and are also part of the dispersion plan, he noted.

(By Alison Hsiao)

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