MOEA identifies causes of March 3 power outage, proposes reforms

03/09/2022 08:50 PM
To activate the text-to-speech service, please first agree to the privacy policy below.
Workers of a bakery in Kaohsiung use mobile phone for light during the power outage on March 3. CNA file photo
Workers of a bakery in Kaohsiung use mobile phone for light during the power outage on March 3. CNA file photo

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) The nationwide power outage that hit Taiwan last week was caused by a combination of human error and overconcentration in the power grid, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said Tuesday.

The MOEA, which oversees state-run utility Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), made the conclusions in a wide-ranging report on the incident at Kaohsiung's Hsinta Power Plant, which triggered blackouts for some 5.49 million households across Taiwan.

The report also proposed a number of reforms to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future.

Cause of the outage

In technical terms, the report stated that on March 2, Taipower employees at Hsinta Power Plant removed an insulation gas, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), from a switch numbered 3540 after discovering moisture in it.

Hsinta Power Plant in Kaohsiung. CNA photo March 3, 2022
Hsinta Power Plant in Kaohsiung. CNA photo March 3, 2022

The next day, when conducting tests to confirm if an adjacent switch, numbered 3541, worked properly, power plant workers turned it on without having added insulation gas back into switch 3540, causing it to malfunction.

While plant safeguards normally would have detected the malfunction, in this instance, the plant's relay -- the component responsible for tripping a circuit breaker when it detects a fault -- "failed to function properly," the report said, without specifying why.

The MOEA had previously stated that the relay, which was digital, had encountered difficulties when working with some of the plant's older equipment.

The improperly functioning relay, in turn, allowed a fault signal to be transmitted from Hsinta Power Plant to the Longqi Extra High Voltage Substation in Tainan, a major hub in Taiwan's power grid, causing circuit breakers at the substation to trip.

The tripped circuits at the Longqi substation disrupted the grid's connections to several other power plants in southern Taiwan, resulting in the sudden loss of about one-third of the nation's electricity supply at that time, the report said.

Responsibility

According to the report, Hsinta plant workers bore the main responsibility for the outage for failing to adhere to relevant safety protocols and demonstrating a lack of risk awareness.

More broadly, the report said that despite the growing demand for power in Taiwan, widespread public opposition had slowed the construction of requisite grid infrastructure.

Over time, this has resulted in the southern section of Taiwan's power grid being overly concentrated at the Longqi substation, posing a risk to the system's operations, the report said.

A resident in Kaohsiung walks her dog with someone lighting the way with a mobile phone. CNA photo March 3, 2022
A resident in Kaohsiung walks her dog with someone lighting the way with a mobile phone. CNA photo March 3, 2022

Reforms

To prevent such incidents in the future, the report recommended creating a new Taipower unit wholly devoted to resolving systemic risks in the grid, while also giving higher-level managers more direct responsibility for the grid's operation.

Taipower should likewise improve its employee training in the area of risk awareness, and should periodically invite domestic and international experts to assess the grid for potential weaknesses, the report said.

The utility should also strengthen the grid's design to make it more "resilient," or able to isolate disruptive events, the report said, while the government should allocate the funding necessary to do so.

Aftermath

The MOEA on Tuesday said it had accepted the resignations of Taipower's Chairman Yang Wei-fuu (楊偉甫) and President Chung Bin-li (鍾炳利), while adding that the utility would soon hold disciplinary hearings for the personnel responsible for the outage.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the ministry announced that Huang Chin-cheng (黃錦城), director of Hsieh-ho Power Plant in Keelung, would take over as director of Hsinta Power Plant with immediate effect.

Taipower employees send off outgoing Chairman Yang Wei-fuu (center left). CNA photo March 8, 2022
Taipower employees send off outgoing Chairman Yang Wei-fuu (center left). CNA photo March 8, 2022

In response to the report, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) accused the government of trying to evade responsibility for the outage, by shifting the blame to Taipower employees and even to former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who left office in 2016.

"Low-level (Taipower) employees are breaking their backs to help conceal Taiwan's power shortage, but the moment there's a problem, the government throws them under the bus," Ling Tao (凌濤), head of the KMT's Culture and Communication Committee, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

All this, "when it is clear that the problem stems from the Tsai government's energy policy," he added.

(By Tseng Chih-yi, Wang Cheng-chung, Elizabeth Hsu and Matthew Mazzetta)

Enditem/ASG

> Chinese Version
    0:00
    /
    0:00
    We value your privacy.
    Focus Taiwan (CNA) uses tracking technologies to provide better reading experiences, but it also respects readers' privacy. Click here to find out more about Focus Taiwan's privacy policy. When you close this window, it means you agree with this policy.