By Dr. Dino Ponnampalam
When one considers how far civilization has progressed, one cannot help but marvel at the cultural and technological advances. However, especially since the time of the Industrial Revolution, this has come at an environmental cost that ultimately is paid for by society. Thankfully, there are alternatives to this destructive behavior that provide society with choices, both collectively as a society and individually as citizens.
Solar energy, being a clean and natural resource, offers one of the most attractive options in making the transition away from burning polluting and finite fossil fuels. Considering that the planet receives more sunlight in one single day than what is needed to power our cities and towns for 365 days, it makes sense to go ahead and utilize this resource.
By harnessing this abundant and inexhaustible resource, society has a renewed hope that the current addiction to environmentally destructive hydrocarbons might be lessened, and perhaps one day, completely broken.
The Opportunities for Taiwan
The Sunbelt Region, home to 5 billion people in 66 countries located +/- 35 degrees of the equator, holds the key to the full development and deployment of a range of solar energy technologies.
Taiwan, being within the Sunbelt, is in a unique position to harness this non-polluting natural resource by adopting technology to first reduce, and then break, her dependence on fossil fuels. And more importantly for Taiwan, a subtropical island located in the Pacific Ocean where importation of foreign energy is currently over 99%, making the transition to a clean energy society will be financially beneficial.
The details on Taiwan’s numerous challenges and opportunities have been covered before, but a quick recap might be needed: Taiwan has a monstrous energy import bill, giving rise to an energy security issue; Taiwan is not rich in conventional energy resources but is blessed in natural energy resources; Taiwan flows with an entrepreneurial spirit; and Taiwan is a technological powerhouse, with solar cell manufacturers ranked in the global ‘top ten’.
Replacing Polluting Energy with Clean Energy
What some might consider being challenges, others might see as opportunities. And such is the case with Taiwan. The challenges to reduce and then break the dependence on foreign energy imports present opportunities for the use of natural energy, for which Taiwan is indeed lucky.
The two main cities in Taiwan are Taipei (the capital) and Kaohsiung (Taiwan’s second-biggest city). Taipei, the political, cultural, and financial center of Taiwan, receives on balance 1,644 hours of sunshine per year. Kaohsiung, the manufacturing center of Taiwan and a city proud of its maritime history and achievements, receives over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. To put this into context, Taipei and Kaohsiung receive roughly the same amount of sunshine on a yearly basis as the cities of Houston, Texas, the U.S.A. and Sacramento, California, the U.S.A., indicating the potential on exploiting this natural resource.
From traditional roof-mounted solar modules to integrating flexible thin-film solar cells into the building structure, the applications of utilizing solar energy are limited only by the imagination. With the inherent entrepreneurial spirit, people of Taiwan have begun to enact change, to make the transition to a clean energy society in part by using solar energy technology.
No one is stating that making the switch to clean energy resources will immediately power our way of life; the current renewable energy technologies available are not close to providing on-demand power for our 24-hour lifestyles. Quite simply, making the switch is not without a whole raft of problems but the discoveries and progress being made in research centers worldwide are bringing forward the day when renewable energy sources could power the world.
This article will highlight the progress being made in Taiwan starting with the City of Kaohsiung and then moving on to metropolitan Taipei, as the scale of the former is larger than the latter.
The Solar Energy Movement in Kaohsiung
The City of Kaohsiung is home to almost 3 million people. Due to its industrial background to both heavy and light industries, environmental concerns were second to economic progress during the ‘Economic Miracle’ (a period of rapid development in the latter half of the 20th century). This resulted in an appalling environmental record. Happily, the situation has vastly improved since those dark days. The City of Kaohsiung, with over 2,200 hours of sunshine per annum, has set about on exploiting this abundant natural resource and transforming the city in the process.
One of the many examples of this transformation can be seen in the Main Stadium (now called the Kaohsiung National Stadium) built for the World Games, held in 2009 in Kaohsiung. The stadium was constructed by Toyo Ito and is the first stadium in the world to provide power from solar energy. The stadium, shaped in a semi-spiral form, has a roof covered in solar cells. In fact, 8,844 solar cells together form the roof of the stadium. Figure 1 is an aerial photograph of the stadium, Figure 2 is a closer view of the stadium, and Figure 3 is a multi-part photograph showing some of the solar panels covering the roof of the stadium as well as the Green Zone around the stadium.
The stadium, with the roof covered with solar cells from Delta Electronics Company, generates 1.14 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, removing 660 tons of carbon dioxide output. Any surplus energy generated through its normal operation is fed into Taiwan’s electricity grid, where it is sold during non-game periods, helping to satisfy the electrical demands of 80% of the surrounding neighborhood.
This stunningly beautiful stadium was only one part on the multi-phase green redevelopment plan the City of Kaohsiung planned. In addition to redeveloping the surrounding areas and using eco-friendly technology, such as using LED streetlamps along public infrastructure, the City of Kaohsiung also upgraded the fleet of ‘Love Boats’ to go green. The Love River in Kaohsiung, the main waterway, is popular with residents and tourists alike in whiling away the time sailing or cruising along the river in ‘Love Boats’. The City of Kaohsiung arranged for the Love Boats to be fitted with solar roofs, replacing the existing line of diesel-powered boats.
The roof of the new Love Boats are fitted with 18 solar panels, allowing for sunlight to be converted into electricity to power the two sets of 12 lithium ion batteries. The near-zero emission vessels silently power along the river, allowing passengers to enjoy a relaxing cruise on the river. Figures 4 and 5 show the photovoltaic-covered roof on the Love Boat from an external and internal point of view.
Quite recently, the largest solar power plant in Taiwan began operation. The plant, fitted with more than 16,000 solar panels, will generate almost 6 MW of electricity saving 3,623 metric tons of carbon dioxide output.
Earlier this year, in February, a 1 MW High Concentration Photovoltaic (HCPV) solar power plant became operational providing power for about 1,000 households. This pilot plant contains 141 huge solar panels with a saving of 650~700 tons of carbon dioxide output. Figure 6 shows some of the 141 huge panels.
Due to the wealth of sunshine in Kaohsiung and coupled to the fact that Taiwan is a major solar cell manufacturer, numerous plans are in place to further develop Kaohsiung as a ‘Solar Energy Hub’; what is further pleasing is that the three projects mentioned above were all constructed using local Taiwanese solar energy products, further reducing the carbon footprint.
The Solar Energy Movement in Taipei
Metropolitan Taipei is geographically quite different to Kaohsiung. Metropolitan Taipei can be seen as being comprised of Taipei City, New Taipei City, and Keelung. Together, the population almost reaches 7 million, which is roughly 30% of the island’s population. As such, metropolitan Taipei is not suitable for large-scale projects where land is required (which, on this densely-populated island, is no easy task to achieve).
Accordingly, the strategy must change when dealing with solar energy projects in metropolitan Taipei. A popular method to utilize solar energy would be to install a solar panel (or rather, an array of panels) to the rooftop, known as Building-Applied Photovoltaics (BAPV). However, this method of retrofitting buildings with solar panels / modules is significantly different to Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV), where photovoltaic material is integrated into the building architecture (such as in the nooks and as part of the building facade).
Using a directed program of BAPV and BIPV, metropolitan Taipei could profoundly change the face of the city and reduce the use of harmful fossil fuels. With over 1,600 hours of sunshine annually, metropolitan Taipei can also enhance its green energy credentials and exploit the abundant solar energy that envelops Taipei.
Slowly, but surely, things have begun to move in that direction. From projects such as the addition of solar panels to rooftops to the building of a solar roof for the playground area of a school, and to the very recent pre-commercialized projects of heat insulation solar glass, Taipei is gathering steam for what should be a very rapid rollout of solar energy technologies.
In 2010, Taipei Ya Xing elementary school had installed 18 solar modules with a rating of 175 W each, generating 4,024 W per year. This allowed the school to save 2,559 kg in carbon dioxide output. Figure 7 shows the BAPV project at Taipei Ya Xin elementary school.
At the Taipei European School, a solar roof was installed in the playground that generated electricity but also provided shade from the sun and shelter from the rain for the school children. AU Optronics Corporation installed the BIPV project using 32 solar modules, each with a rating of 210 W, generating 6,205 kWh per annum and saving almost 4 tons of carbon emissions. Figure 8 shows the installed solar Frisbee roof.
Taiwan hosted the Flora Expo in 2010, a ten-month long event that featured the best and most innovative in the field of horticulture. The Taipei Flora Expo included a considerable amount of green energy technology into the design of the pavilions. For example, the Xinsheng Park was divided into segments, and the Dream segment contained three pavilions topped with a solar roof. Each roof was able to reduce the energy requirement of the pavilion by 50%, providing a cool and fresh environment for the visitors without relying too much on polluting fossil fuels. Figure 9 shows a photograph of the roof of one of the pavilions.
The list of BIPV and BAPV projects in Taipei is quite extensive and this article will not attempt to report on them all. Rather, this report wishes to highlight the concrete steps metropolitan Taipei is taking to change the face-and the facade-of the city to reduce the current energy-intensive system in operation. With a whole host of future projects incorporating solar energy technology coming online in the next few years, from the international airport to the main railway station in central Taipei, and in the plethora of skyscraper (both residential and commercial) construction projects nearing completion, Taipei is indeed undergoing a solar-based cosmetic change.
The Prospective Solar Future
While it is wonderful to see and applaud the efforts of Taipei and Kaohsiung, one must not forget that these two cities are but two locations in Taiwan; many locations dotted around the island are very suitable for installing solar energy technology. And what is further worth mentioning is the aesthetic quality found in solar cells. Rather than detract from the location, solar cells covering buildings or rooftops actually enhance the beauty of the structure, as Figure 10 shows.
Island-wide, Taiwan is actively bringing together her many advantages and slowly making the transition to a clean energy future, and as the examples listed in this article have demonstrated, the island is just getting started. Kaohsiung, Taipei, every other city and town in Taiwan, has the potential to harness solar energy and provide a cleaner future. The road is long, and the journey has just begun, but an aesthetically pleasing solar-powered future awaits.
After obtaining his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Nottingham, Dino Ponnampalam moved to Taipei, Taiwan and worked for the National Energy Program Office. He is now a freelance consultant and external contributor, focusing on renewable energy technology, strategy, and policy.
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