Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Special Report: Taiwan poised to become even greener

Like the United States, Taiwan is expending vast resources to develop its green energy sector and decrease its carbon emissions. As part of Taiwan’s stimulus plan, 10 percent of its current four-year US$15 billion public construction expansion also includes expenditure on green or environmentally friendly technologies.

Taiwan is already ahead of many countries in instigating policies to promote a green lifestyle. President Ma Ying-jeou has made it known that building a low-carbon society is one of his administration’s priorities. At the National Energy Conference held on April 15th, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan re-iterated Taiwan’s commitment towards building a “low carbon-emission homeland.”

Reduce, re-use, recycle

When visitors arrive for the World Games in Kaohsiung this July, they will experience the harbor city’s gleaming new 55,000-seat main stadium, a truly innovative green building. With more solar panels on its roof than any other building in Taiwan, it can meet 80 percent of its electric needs during events. The stadium also has other environmental “firsts” such as locally-made and fully recyclable construction materials, a rainwater harvesting system, an advanced wastewater treatment plant, sensor light-emitting diodes, an on-site trash sorting center and a building design that helps it blend in with its surrounding environment. The stadium is truly one of a kind and the envy of environmental designers.

Taiwan’s environmental policies do not only apply to a showcase building, but trickle down to how people sort garbage and heat domestic water. In Taiwan’s densely populated cities, cutting carbon dioxide emissions is even more important. As an incentive, central and local governments have offered subsidies for households to purchase solar powered water heaters. So far, 433,000 households in Taiwan have taken advantage of government subsidies, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 350,000 tons per year. By 2012, 570,000 Taiwanese families will have solar water heaters, further reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

Coupled with greener energy sources, a sound environmental plan must also include new ways to reduce and reuse waste. In Taiwan, most local governments charge a garbage collection fee attached to residents’ water bills. In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital with a population of almost three million, the fee is attached to the sale of trash bags. According to the Environmental Protection Bureau of the Taipei City Government, the volume of waste has plummeted since the implementation of the per bag trash collection fee policy in 2000.

In conjunction with sound waste management policies, Taiwan has instigated stringent rules regarding its recycling program, requiring residents to sort their garbage into three categories – ordinary garbage, recyclables and food scraps. Since 2005, garbage that is not properly separated is rejected, and violators are fined between US$36 to US$180. Random checks of garbage bags take place to ensure that everyone abides by the rules.

Renewable energy gets the go-ahead

Over the next five years, Taiwan’s government will start an ambitious project to transform the island into a low carbon emission society by investing US$1.33 billion in the development of green energy industries, especially in solar energy and light emitting diode (LED) technology. The goal is to turn Taiwan into the world’s largest supplier of LED modules, solar cells and panels, and a major producer of electric vehicles in the Asian Pacific region.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA), US$753 million will be allocated to the development of renewable energy and towards subsidizing the installation of energy-saving devices. Another US$629 million will be used for research and development of green energy technologies, which the government hopes will stimulate a further US$6 billion in private investment over the next five years.The project will cover industries focusing on solar energy, LED lights, wind power, biomass fuel, hydrogen power, fuel cells, electric vehicles, and energy information and communication technology. “By 2015, the green energy sector is expected to create 110,000 jobs in Taiwan each year,” said Yiin Chii-ming, the Minister of Economic.

Taiwan’s new project is expected to transform green energy industries into a new industrial sector with an annual output value of over US$19.59 billion. The government’s aim is to replicate the semiconductor manufacturing boom of the 1980s and the optoelectronic success of the 1990s.

While considering carbon dioxide reduction, Taiwan must consider balancing environmental protection with economic development. There are many different methods of generating renewable energy using the wind and ocean wave power. Ideas include erecting wind turbines in the ocean, using the ocean’s thermal energy, ocean wave energy and ocean current energy. In as much as all these ideas have potential, they are also cutting-edge areas that need to be studied further to determine their viability.

Nuclear free not an option - yet

On the development of nuclear energy, Premier Liu stressed that with three nuclear power plants in operation and a fourth under construction, the controversial form of energy is a ‘transitional option’ in the process of Taiwan’s metamorphosis into a low-carbon society. He made the comments in response to protests by environmentalists and anti-nuclear power activists over the government’s energy policy.

Former president of Academia Sinica, Yuan T. Lee, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986, and delivered a keynote speech at the National Energy Conference, said he did support a nuclear free homeland before, but he agrees now that based on Taiwan’s current situation, nuclear free is impossible to achieve in the first half of this century.

Traditional approach - plant at tree

Also speaking at the National Energy Conference, President Ma included some low-tech solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through a massive tree-planting plan. He proposed increasing the tree planting areas to six million acres in eight years through the designation of various green parks in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s progress towards developing green energy sources and a more sustainable country is an active process. Changes can include merely converting all the island’s traffic lights (around 700,000) to energy-saving LED by 2011 or tackling innovative energy frontiers. For now, by following the government’s course of action, carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 36.5 percent by 2020 and 59.6 percent by 2025.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.