From Reservoir to Rooftop
Everyone Can Generate Green Energy
Starting this year, electricity use will be like browsing the market for food - just pick and choose whatever you like. The liberalization of the electricity industry enables everyone from individuals to large corporations to freely invest in, buy or sell renewable energy.
Everyone Can Generate Green EnergyBy Kwangyin Liu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 623 )
On a mid-May day, a blazing sun heralding the onset of summer beats down on the Agongdian Reservoir in Yanchao on the outskirts of Kaohsiung. A giant, steel-gray object floating on the surface dominates the scene. Upon closer inspection, it turns out to be a field of solar power modules occupying one hectare of their watery surroundings, the equivalent of two basketball courts.
Scheduled for completion in late June, it is the first phase of an open-bid, floating 2.32-megawatt (MW) solar generator project situated in a reservoir overseen by the Water Resources Agency of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). A second phase is projected for completion sometime next year.
From individuals to giant corporations, increased investment has recently poured into photovoltaics (solar energy) in response to the MOEA’s call to achieve 20 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic installation capacity by 2025. In support of these ambitions, the Bureau of Energy under the MOEA has introduced a two-year program to promote solar energy, with sights set on 1520 MW of additional capacity by the middle of next year.
The floating solar power installation at the Agongdian Reservoir is one example in a swarm of related efforts. Designed by French firm Ciel & Terre, it consists of over 8,000 modules, supported by more than 20,000 custom-made floats linked together by shackles and anchors. Once the installation is complete, it will be able to provide power for 1,300 families each day.
Austin Yu, project supervisor of GermanSolar Asia, relates that the undertaking brings together numerous fields of expertise, from construction and engineering on the water, to cable arrays, and floats. The biggest difficulty the project faced was preventing damage from the anchors to the bottom of the reservoir. To fix the platform in place, they fixed the solar panels and floats with two square-meter concrete cubes weighing six metric tons. “Pouring concrete, removing it from the mold, and drying requires 30 days, so it took two months to make the sunken concrete anchors alone,” Yu says.
Yu believes that renewable energy and distributed generation is the way of the future. “Although renewable energy may not completely replace base load energy, solar energy production is most efficient during the summer when power consumption also happens to be at its peak,” he says.
As energy transition awareness and acceptance become widespread, more and more enterprises are investing in green electricity, and social enterprises are even applying a crowdfunding approach to green power production.
Rooftop Power Plant
Hui-Ping Chen, who has a Ph.D in sociology from National Taiwan University, is the co-founder of GrinnoDot Inc. In 2016, GrinnoDot rolled out Taiwan’s first green energy crowdfunding platform, Sunnyfounder. Established on the renewable electricity bidding system, it divides participating units down to the single solar panel level, and one can become a partner in a power facility for an investment of just over NT$10,000.
Hung Chih-hsien, proprietor of Hung Family Beef Noodles in the Tainan suburb of Hsinying, has long wanted to install solar panels on his roof. “But when I heard you had to sign a 20-year contract, I hesitated,” he admits. That is, until something his wife said set him straight: “You’ve been hesitating for 10 years. If you’d gone ahead and done it then, you’d be halfway through by now!” Those words, plus the fact that his daughter works at Sunnyfounder, compelled him to agree to join in the crowdfunding, becoming known as Pillar Number One.
The Hung family leased their roof for the installation of 44 solar panels with a total capacity of 12 KW. This March they received their first electricity allotment as compensation for their contribution.
“If every roof in the neighborhood produced power for self-use, thermal power plants wouldn’t have to produce so much electricity, and air pollution would be reduced. Our goal is self-sufficiency, so that every household uses clean energy.” This is the speech Hung Chih-hsien gives to each of his curious neighbors when asked about the family’s installation of solar panels.
Local Generation, Local Consumption
In addition to targeting investments in photovoltaics, another group has gone a step further and started a renewable energy cooperative. Known as the Homemakers United Foundation, they have purchased a share of 20 of the Hung family’s solar panels.
What is an organization that got its start as a fruit and vegetable cooperative doing running an electrical power operation? “The starting point is the same; we are concerned with Taiwan’s sustainable development,” relates Hwang Shu-te, director of the Homemakers Union Consumers Co-op. Unlike food, which people can choose to purchase on their own volition, for decades only the government and specially sanctioned enterprises could get involved in energy, Hwangexplains. But an opportunity for change presented itself this year.
The passage of revisions to the Electricity Act permits the free buying and selling of renewable power generation. This presented the Co-op with an outlet. They had in mind to take the “local production, local consumption” cooperative model for fruits and vegetables and apply it to energy. This year they established a renewable energy cooperative with an eye toward full civic participation in electric energy production.
“We need to overcome our reliance on fossil fuels, and green energy is a bandwagon everyone can get on,” says Hwang.
The major differences between the renewable energy cooperative and Sunnyfounder are closer interpersonal relationships and more effective promotion. Although membership has just exceeded 100, Hwang expects it to gradually expand, citing the example of 800 renewable energy cooperatives in Germany alone.
The swarm’s progress is not without obstacles. Yu Hsiang-yi and Chen Hui-ping both agree that establishing power-generation modules is only the first step, and that facilities without feeder lines will only frustrate and confound small businesses. Yu relates that a floating solar power station at the Mudan Reservoir, for which the MOEA’s Water Resources Agency is thinking of inviting bids, would require over 10 kilometers of feeder lines to link to the Taipower electricity grid. The cost of the lines alone for such an undertaking would reach NT$200 million.
When green energy becomes a popular movement, who foots the bill for the infrastructure is the key issue renewable energy’s grassroots foot soldiers seek to clarify at this point in time.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman