Taiwan moves on green power
Matt Kovac in Taipei
The island is using windmills to create energy and cut down on emissions
Nestled on top of a small barren hill on Taiwan's outlying island of Penghu are 12 wind turbines that generate mechanical power and electricity to turn Taiwan a healthier shade of green.
It is the latest project inspired by the Taiwan government to develop cleaner forms of energy and jump on the hot solar sector bandwagon.
A small group of manufacturers has poured money into solar-cell and fuel-cell batteries that can power machines free of emissions.
The impetus behind the efforts is Taiwan's high dependence on imported energy. It is seeking alternative means to keep the lights on in cities and science parks.
Although the programme is in its infancy, the wind turbine project on Penghu is expected to power the island chain by 2015.
Penghu's chain of 64 low-lying islands, 60km long by 22.5km wide, has a population of 90,000, most of whom live in fishing villages which dot the coastline.
'It's a huge challenge to power a small island purely by wind but the benefits are enormous,' an executive from Taiwan Power (Taipower), the government-owned power company, said of the project.
'Harnessing the power of natural resources will go some way to countering soaring international fuel prices and cut emissions.'
A wind turbine works the opposite way to a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity.
The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity.
Taipower will construct another six turbines by the end of the year, bringing the total number to 14. Within a decade, Taipower will have built 231 wind turbines around Penghu - 55 on land and 178 offshore. General Electric and other international manufacturers will supply the turbines.
The wind turbines will generate more than 400,000kWh of energy, with surplus electricity exported to Taiwan.
It is part of a wider goal to generate 10 per cent of Taiwan's total energy needs through renewable resources, such as solar power or wind power.
Environmentalists, however, say Taiwan's efforts are too little too late. The government confirmed at last year's National Energy Conference that since 2000, carbon dioxide emissions had skyrocketed to 276 tonnes from 221 tonnes.
There is also criticism that wind power will not compete with conventional generation sources on a cost basis because of the higher initial investment.
Taipower has not revealed how much the project will cost. Although the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial outlay compared with fossil-fuelled generators. The other major challenge is that the wind is intermittent and does not always blow when electricity is needed.
Supporters of the project are undeterred. 'Penghu is in an ideal spot for electricity-generating windmills, as crosswinds come through the islands during the winter season,' said Hung Tung-lin, director of the Tourism Department in Penghu.
The wind turbines would also fuel another industry, Mr Hung claimed. 'The Penghu County Government plans to market the wind turbines as an eco-tourist attraction, along with all of the islands' natural resources.'
Meanwhile, Taiwan's small manufacturers are working on other renewable energies. Fuel-cell technology looks to eliminate the existing battery and replace it with clusters of energy-creating packs that are driven through environmentally friendly materials.
Taipei-based Antig Corp is one such manufacturer latching onto the production of direct methanol fuel cells that convert methanol into energy, with the only byproduct being water. The methanol can then be refilled or the empty container thrown out.
The technology appears to be more than just a passing fad. Fuel cells offer more power than traditional batteries. Early testing shows that one fuel cell could power a mobile phone for a month and a notebook for nine continuous days. Antig has already developed a working prototype for notebook computers.
Another rising star is Asia Pacific Fuel Cell Technologies. The company is building a series of fuel cell technologies, albeit for much larger platforms. The Zero Emission Scooter has a top speed of 48km/h and a range of 60km.
The company, led by founder Jefferson Yang, hopes to clean up Taipei's notoriously bad air quality arising from the 3 million motorcycles that zip in and out of the city.
'The fuel cell has the promise to become one of the 21st century's most important technologies and pollution-free energy sources,' Mr Yang said.