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Innovation paving the way for independence

In Taiwan, there is a sense of urgency among stakeholders in the renewable energy sector to develop a more robust energy mix to limit dependence on others. With national targets driving the uptake of solar power, companies are capitalising on expertise in manufacturing to meet the country’s objectives and to position themselves as international players in the fields of insulation and solar glass. Hannah Jo Uy has the story…

| | Jan 19, 2018 | 9:15 pm
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In Taiwan, innovation is not a luxury but a necessity, driven by a country’s desire to develop a more independent energy mix. Innovation, says Suo-Hang Chuang, Vice-Chairman, TAITRA Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), is imperative, owing to the country’s lack of natural resources, which makes it dependent on the import of oil for energy. “We’ve got to change that,” he says. “We have an ambition to be more independent and, at the same time, we have to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2025.”

According to Taiwan News, President Tsai Ing-wen announced plans of using renewables to provide 20% of the nation’s energy by 2025 and phase out nuclear power plants, the first of which will be shut down by 2019(1). The government’s targeted fuel mix is 20% renewable, 50% natural gas and 30% coal by 2025. For Chuang, with 2025 only a few years away, there is a lot of work to be done, since currently, 16% of total energy generated is from nuclear power plants.

Chin-Huai Young, Department of Construction Engineering, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, echoes the sense of urgency that Chuang expresses, emphasising that in Taiwan there is a proactive move to encourage the invention and promotion of products related to renewable energy and energy savings.

Chuang describes this as a “major task” that requires engagement from all stakeholders, particularly in universities, where he says, traditionally a culture of innovation is encouraged within research and educational systems. His optimism is palpable in this regard, owing to the history of Taiwan in terms of manufacturing efficiency, which he believes, will be replicated in the solar industry.

“The key component is the semiconductor,” he says, “and Taiwan produces the most and best semiconductors in the world.” Chuang adds that with the top 10 semiconductor companies based in Taiwan, he is confident that the local industry can lower cost with mass production and make solar technologies more widely available in the market.

Dr Shuo-Yan Chou, Department of Industrial Management Director, Center for Internet of Things Innovation, Taiwan Tech, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, is of the same opinion. “Taiwan, while not as strong, is like Germany in a sense that manufacturing excellence is our goal and strength,” he says.

Young echoes this, adding that 10 years ago, Taiwan already had a 20% share of the global solar panel market, but most were exported and not applied locally. However, in light of new government policies and incentives, uptake is inevitable.

Young says that in 2011, Taiwan announced a policy, where those with solar power could send power to the grid and receive money in return. “[The government] pays USD 0.2 for every 1 kWh,” he says. “If you send back 10 kWh, you can get USD 2.”

Young says that such incentives are necessary and that owing to the policy, people in Taiwan readily use solar power on their roofs. He adds that trends are such that many people rent out their roofs for a fee to investors, who install solar panels to generate energy to be sent to the grid, in order to receive a payback from the government at a profit.

Speaking as the Technical Chief Officer (TCO) of Taiwan HISG, Young says that the development of the company’s heat insulation glass for zero-

energy buildings has been in the works since 2011 and was partially commercialised in 2012. Today, however, there are 20 construction projects that have integrated this technology.

In such solutions, which require higher capital price, Young says that insulation solar glass applied to a new building in Taiwan has an ROI of approximately five years in terms of energy saving compared to normal glass, in addition to the government’s payback incentives.

The government, Young says, supported Taiwan HISG by granting the company USD 4 million in July 2017 to promote the products all over the world, in the next three years. The first stop, he says, is the Middle East, owing to the commercial viability of solar power generation in the region, owing to ambient conditions.

Young says that air conditioning is recognised as one of the biggest culprits in energy consumption, in Taiwan, and especially in the Middle East. This, he says, is why companies are proactive in promoting the products in the region, as the ROI will be faster compared to Taiwan. Young says that according to the company’s economic assessment, the heat insulation solar glass, once applied to a city such as Dubai, can help provide a comfortable indoor environment while providing energy saving. Additionally, he says, since the UAE gets six or seven hours of sun a day, there is more opportunity to achieve higher solar power supply to address a building’s energy consumption. Young says that he is optimistic it could even pave the way for nearly zero-energy buildings.

Chou adds that for the past 10 years, the Taiwan government has been trying to reach out to Middle Eastern as well as to South East Asian countries, and has been getting support from organisations such as TAITRA. “All the resources have been put in this area, not just in terms of industrial cooperation but also for education,” he says. “We have many students to provide them with a good understanding of how technologies are developed in Taiwan and how things are done.” This, he says, is the strategy the country is adapting.

Show, don’t tell

To help encourage wider acceptance and penetration of new technologies, Chou says Taiwan is taking a “show, don’t tell” approach by providing a value proposition beyond the conceptual. As such, he says, “demo sites” constitute a typical approach of companies. The goal, he says, is to show the assumptions based on factors such as weather conditions and the consumption of air conditioning; and based on the framework, the aim is to show the results. “We are spending a lot of money installing meters and sensors and monitoring our operation in the long run, so we can provide numbers to developers,” he says.

Young says that Taiwan HISG is looking to replicate the approach in Dubai, with plans to build a demo house with heat insulation solar glass panels. The project, expected to be completed before 2020, he adds, would remotely monitor energy consumption and efficiency.

In terms of international project references, Young says Taiwan HISG set up a demo house in Nottingham University, in the United Kingdom, to demonstrate energy efficiency, and has recently signed an MoU with a Manchester-based installation company active in promoting nearly zero-energy buildings.

Adding to this, Jason Lin, Assistant Vice President, Business Centre, Nexpower, points out to the example of a house in Switzerland, developed in 2015, which he says offers a strong demonstration of the energy and power such a solution provides. In 2016, the demo house reportedly generated more electricity than the house needed. Nexpower, he says, provided the façade material. “[The occupants would] store the surplus energy in batteries, and use the surplus energy for winter, when they need heat,” he says. “The cost was only 10% higher [once the solar features were added] .”

As to whether such an approach could accommodate the high load required for cooling buildings in countries such as the UAE, Lin says that the overall design of the whole building is also an important factor, and urges strong engagement among all stakeholders within a project. Everything, he says, is dependent on how and which part [of the] insulated solar glass solutions are used within the design. “One certain thing,” he says, “is the power you generate and the heat you insulate will be very helpful.”

Initially, Young says, companies were hesitant to enter the UAE market, owing to electricity traditionally being available at a lower cost. However, he says, the government’s aggressive policy related to energy savings and nearly zero-energy buildings proves that it is an interesting market.

Beyond the environmental ethos driving the UAE, Lin says, Nexpower’s decision to explore the local market is driven by demand, owing to the increase in the cost of electricity. “In the beginning of 2017,” he says, “we got more and more enquiries not only in the UAE but also other parts in the Middle East.”

Chuang says that for its part, TAITRA has a “brigade” to introduce innovation and “the best minds Taiwan has to offer” to countries such as the UAE, which exhibit a move towards a sustainable energy future. Though there is a strong focus on Dubai, being an international, hub, Chuang says that the association has met with people from Kuwait, and has observed a similar move in the country when it comes to codes and regulations; those, he adds, will make a strong case for renewable energy solutions. Chuang adds that stakeholders are looking to invest in a factory in the UAE to produce solar-related products in the region and are active in looking for local partners and distributors. Though at an early stage, it would seem that the mood for future trade relations between Taiwan and the GCC region remains buoyant, with both sides eager to look at potential areas of cooperation.

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