(Repeats item published on March 8, no changes in text)
* Pingtung 1st Taiwan prison to supply solar power to grid
* Taipei eyes major solar expansion, but goals still distant
* President Tsai pledge to make island nuclear-free by 2025
* Massive renewable energy rollout faces host of roadblocks
By J.R. Wu and Damon Lin
PINGTUNG, Taiwan, March 8 On Pingtung jail's
sunlit roof, prisoner no. 24 has a view of a brighter future.
Ex-cop Chen, serving time for bribery, is learning how to
install solar panels in a programme that's part of Taiwan's
shimmering vision of a future without nuclear power.
The 48-year-old is working on a project that has seen the
southern Taiwan prison become the first to send solar power into
the island's electricity grid. "I should be out in two-three
years," said Chen, whose full name can't be disclosed under
prison rules, "this should help (in finding a future job)."
Things are looking up for Chen, selected for the solar team
on good behaviour. But with a capacity of 1.8 megawatts, enough
to supply power to 639 average Taiwanese households for a year,
the drop-in-the-ocean Pingtung project highlights the towering
scale of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's pledge to make the
island nuclear-free by 2025.
Nuclear accounts for around 14 percent of Taiwan's total
electricity generation. Renewable sources, including solar, wind
and hydro, together account for less than 5 percent, leaving the
2025 goal of having renewables - primarily solar - account for a
fifth of electricity generation by 2025 looking like a mirage.
At Pingtung prison, where temperatures outside can peak
around 33 degrees Celsius in summer, the chief of project
manager Taichung-based Lixma Tech Co said the arithmetic was
simple: It's not possible for renewables, dependent on weather
conditions, to be a main supply source.
"Renewable energy can reduce and replace a lot of
traditional power generation - coal or nuclear power – only
during peak electricity consumption periods," said Lixma's Chief
Executive, Thomas Hsu.
With plentiful sunshine at its disposal, Taiwan has
certainly made progress in expanding solar energy in recent
years. From current capacity of about 1,061 megawatts, Taipei is
targeting about double that amount by mid-2018, with other jails
among those considering solar projects, Pingtung prison
But to match official government targets of having solar
power account for 73 percent of total renewable energy capacity
by 2025, Taiwan would need nearly 20 times' current solar power
capacity within nine years - about 20,000 megawatts. That kind
of power could mean panels taking up around 25,000 hectares of
space on the island - nearly the size of capital Taipei.
ROADBLOCKS VS. CONSENSUS
While Pingtung sees Taiwan join the ranks of countries from
the United States to Brazil and South Africa in developing solar
prison projects, the island will have to resolve numerous
serious roadblocks if it's to implement the massive rollout of
renewables it needs to meet its goals, experts and industry
Problems in grid transmission for renewable energy, outdated
regulations governing a power industry long dominated by state
monopoly Taiwan Power Co - known as Taipower - environmental
concerns and rival interests among government agencies and local
communities are among issues to be overcome.
"The biggest uncertainty is how to get consensus among the
various stakeholders," said Laurence Li, head of the
government's Renewable Energy Project Office in Taipei, who says
private sector players are eager to participate.
While a key player in encouraging renewables projects like
the Pingtung prison, Taipower is also the principal operator of
Taiwan's nuclear energy industry, as well as coal and liquefied
natural gas plants.
Financing development is another issue.
At Pingtung prison, Lixma shoulders all costs and says it
will receive around T$9 million ($292,000) a year from Taipower
for the solar power from the prison. Lixma CEO Hsu said the firm
won't break even on the project until the ninth year of its
20-year contract with the prison and Taipower.
Better known in Taiwan for the aged soy sauce its inmates
have been making for decades, Pingtung prison is content to
offer its 10,000 square metres of roof space for the 6,000
installed panels for the advancement of renewables.
"We are primarily a resource for absorbing solar energy,"
said vice warden Lin Cheng-rong. "It is the companies with
technical capabilities who invest and set up the solar panels
and who sell the solar energy to Taipower," said Lin.
Part of the central government's corrections agency, the
prison can't keep revenue from the solar energy it is
generating, or even directly use the power itself - before
lights-out at 9 p.m., its bulbs run on electricity from the
For inmate Chen, each night brings release and the day he no
longer needs his no. 24 prison vest a step closer. Once the
solar panel installation is complete, he'll return to tending
crops on prison grounds as part of his regular prison life - but
with rooftop views still firmly on his mind.
($1 = 30.8450 Taiwan dollars)
(Reporting by J.R. Wu and Damon Lin; Editing by Kenneth