Taiwan’s nuclear power plant shutdown tests Tsai’s energy transition
TAIPEI – Reactor 1 at the Kuosheng nuclear power plant in Taiwan shut down last week, six months before it was scheduled to go out of service on December 27 due to spent fuel storage capacity constraints preventing it from being refueled .
The closure of the reactor marks a new stage in the island’s energy transition, a key initiative by President Tsai Ing-wen. His administration aims to shut down all of Taiwan’s nuclear reactors by mid-2025 and replace their electricity with huge amounts of renewable energy and natural gas electricity. Kuosheng Reactor 1 is the third of Taiwan’s six reactors to be shut down, with the remaining operational reactors scheduled to shut down at a rate of one per year, from 2023 to 2025.
The 985-megawatt Kuosheng 1 reactor has generated nearly 3% of Taiwan’s total power, and its loss comes against a backdrop of demand for electricity and capacity constraints that have already led to two outages.
Taipower spokesman Albert Chang said in a telephone interview that the loss of the reactor would not impact electricity supply margins.
“We have been anticipating the shutdown for several months and Taipower has controlled that” with the commissioning of a new 500 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) at Chiahuei Unit 2, as well as 500 MW new solar photovoltaic installations. “We are confident that we will be able to provide a full power supply this summer without problems,” he said.
The CCGT Chiahuei 2 unit combined with solar photovoltaic energy will however find it difficult to replace the electricity produced by the Kuosheng reactor 1. Last March, before Taipower began cutting production from the near-end reactor, the state-owned company and Taiwanese sole nuclear operator had run the reactor at 101.94 percent of capacity, generating 710,131 megawatt hours, or 22,907 MWh per day.
Solar power produces at a much lower capacity of only 15% in Taiwan, amounting to just 1,800 MWh per day. The CCGT unit at Chiahuei 2 can operate at very high capacities of 98% but its small size allows it to generate only around 11,760 MWh per day. The combined production of the replacement power would amount to only 13,560 MWh per day, leaving a gap of 40%.
“This is simply not enough to meet the record demand for electricity expected this summer,” said Yeh Tsung-Kuang, professor of nuclear engineering at Tsing-Hua National University. “It is inevitable that there will be blackouts and power rationing for the rest of the summer.”
This gap will likely be filled by electricity generated by the CCGT, which raises concerns about energy security and greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, nuclear power generated 12.7% of the electricity on the grid of the state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), while coal generated 36.4% ( plus 1.7% for coal cogeneration). In addition to phasing out nuclear power generation, Taiwan aims to reduce coal power to 30% by installing 27 gigawatts of renewable energy to generate 20% of electricity demand and by expanding natural gas power to generate 50% of demand.
In addition to realizing the vision of the ruling DPP of a “nuclear-free homeland”, the energy transition policy aims to reduce Taiwan’s carbon footprint and position the island as a leader in green energy in Asia. .
Supported by a series of legislative and policy initiatives, including amendments to the Electricity Law that made the phase-out of nuclear energy mandatory by 2025 as well as the liberalization of electricity sales, the government expects the energy transition to generate NT $ 1 trillion (US $ 36 billion) in investment, NT $ 1.2 trillion (US $ 43.3 billion) in output value and 20,000 opportunities jobs by 2025.
Tsai introduced Taiwan as “a leading green energy center in the Asia-Pacific region” in his opening speech at EnergyTaiwan, Taiwan’s premier renewable energy trade fair, last October.
The deployment of renewable energy and natural gas capacity, however, encountered a series of hurdles, including local opposition, government infighting and the impact of the pandemic.
Renewables only accounted for 5.8% of electricity production in 2020, and the amount of new offshore solar and wind capacity added since then is negligible. Solar energy represents 6.12 GW of installed capacity and will need to see nearly 14 GW additional by 2025 to achieve its goal.
Taiwan has established Asia’s largest offshore wind sector outside of China, but early projects have been hit hard by the pandemic, and most analysts believe Taiwan will not hit its 5.7 GW target until. 2026 or 2027.
Additionally, as Taiwan installs massive new natural gas turbines around the island, these are completely dependent on imported LNG. Taiwan’s LNG import capacity is already at peak, and the new terminals have faced stiff opposition from environmentalists. A referendum asking voters to kill a third LNG terminal is on the ballot for August 28. Even if it fails, the project is already postponed until after 2025.
The nuclear phase-out faces a non-extendable deadline. Although a referendum passed in 2018 removed the legal mandate to phase out nuclear energy without adequate storage capacity for spent nuclear fuel, extending the lifespan of plants is a technical impossibility. Another referendum on the August 28 ballot will ask voters to approve the restart of the controversial Lungmen 4 nuclear power plant project, but that too would take years before it goes live. The elimination of all nuclear energy production from May 17, 2025 – the expiry date of the operating license for the last reactor – is almost certain.
Meanwhile, the demand for electricity continues to increase. Demand increased 4.5% between January and April this year, on top of a 2.08% increase last year. The Bureau of Energy (BOE) sees demand increase by 2.5% or more per year through 2027. Taiwan’s booming exports have made it one of the best performing economies in the world in 2020, with a growth in gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2021 exceeding 8%. The Chunghua Institution for Economic Research (CIER) sees Taiwan grow 4.8% in 2021 despite a pandemic-induced lockdown and 3.23% in 2022.
“We hope to decouple economic growth from energy consumption, but so far we don’t see this decoupling happening,” said BOE deputy general manager Lee Chun-li.
Taiwan got a first glimpse of the impact of inadequate power generation last month when peak demand hit record levels. Blackouts occurred twice, on May 13 and 17. Significant volumes of LNG capacity have been taken offline due to scheduled annual maintenance in anticipation of low demand during the rainy season from April to May. The rains, however, did not materialize amid a 100-year drought, and Taipower struggled to maintain adequate reserve margins.
Tsai has pledged to put Taiwan on the path to net zero emissions by 2050, aligning Taiwan with 59 countries around the world. The island has made progress in reducing emissions since they peaked at 300.8 million metric tons in 2007, according to data from the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration, down 1 , 52% to 296.24 million metric tonnes in 2018.
But with the development of renewables stalled, the electricity supply shortage created by the loss of nuclear power will likely be filled with natural gas power, or worse, coal. Nuclear power emits little directly, but including construction and uranium mining, it is estimated to emit 400 grams per kilowatt hour.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates emissions from combined cycle gas turbines at 412 kilograms per MWh, while coal emits 1,000 kilograms per MWh. Replacing the wasted power of Kuosheng Reactor 1 with natural gas will add 8,696 tonnes to Taiwan’s carbon emissions every day – or 3.17 million tonnes per year – while coal would add 7.7 million tonnes per year. year.
This would not only delay Taiwan’s net zero targets, but also impact trade. The European Union floats the carbon border adjustment mechanism, a tariff that would penalize those lagging behind in emission reductions. The EU is Taiwan’s fourth-largest export destination, with an annual trade value of around € 50.5 billion (NT $ 1.68 trillion). An unauthorized CIER economist noted that “if the EU imposes carbon tariffs, it will have a serious impact on the competitiveness of Taiwan’s exports.”
Taiwan’s heavy industries, including semiconductors, petrochemicals and steel, consume 37.47% of the island’s electricity and are made possible by low electricity prices in Taiwan. Average electricity tariffs in Taiwan are NT $ 2.5 ($ 0.09) per kWh, among the lowest in the world and far below the price Taipower pays for renewables, which is on average. at NT $ 4.87 per kWh, according to data from Taipower.
The price hike would incentivize energy conservation and reorient Taiwan’s industrial policy, phasing out less competitive industries, experts say.
“Electricity prices should reflect the cost of the energy transition,” said Chien Ker-Hsuan, assistant professor at the Institute of Technology Management at Tsing Hua National University.
Nonetheless, BOE deputy managing director Lee remains optimistic.
“There were delays [in the energy transition], mainly because of the pandemic, ”he observed. “But the pandemic will pass, and we are very confident for 2025.”