Emotions run high at int’l energy symposium in Taipei

Billy Chamberlin, The China Post

Emotions ran high yesterday as local and international energy experts and academics discussed Taiwan’s energy policies at the New Energy International Symposium 2001 in Taipei. As speakers from Germany and the United States completed their presentations and the floor was opened for discussion, the forum quickly disintegrated into battleground on the pros and cons of nuclear power. One audience member, identifying himself as a government employee working on nuclear power, sparked the tense discussion by claiming Taiwan’s controversial fourth nuclear power plant had more than adequate safety measures, thereby countering an earlier comment by one of the symposium’s speakers, Chen Mei-huei, on the danger of nuclear power. Chen interrupted the government representative and called on him to “go home and do [his] homework,” claiming that his statements on nuclear power safety were unfounded and inaccurate. Last year, President Chen Shui-bian became embroiled in a political standoff and constitutional crisis with the opposition-controlled Legislature when he announced the halting of construction on the fourth nuclear power plant, already a third of the way complete. While Chen’s directive was in line with his campaign platform calling for a nuclear-free island, public opinion remained divided on the need for a fourth nuclear plant and concern centered on Taiwan’s competitiveness if the island experienced a power shortage. Since then, the construction on the power plant has resumed but the controversial topic still simmers in the public consciousness, as experienced yesterday. The symposium’s focus, which runs through today, centers on how Taiwan can implement alternative sources of energy and yesterday speakers advocated two forms of “new” energy: wind power and fuel cells. Hubertus Pleister from the Deutsche Investitions-umd, a German investment bank, explained that while the price of generating wind power has decreased significantly in recent years, to “make wind energy attractive” governments would still need to help subsidize ventures. The commercialization of fuel cells, on the other hand, said Laura Shen, director of Asian Environmental Partnership, is quickly making its way to market with automobiles powered by fuel cells expected to hit the roads in only a couple of years. Just last week, German luxury carmaker BMW announced that it is actively looking for partners to help develop fuel cell-driven automobiles. “I would like to reassert our wish and our will to cooperate with other automobile manufacturers in the development of alternative power systems,” said Burkhard Goeschel, a BMW AG board member, at a recent press conference in Los Angeles. Fuel cells, once a military technology that was recently made public, uses hydrogen to chemically and electrically produce energy and gives off only water vapor as a byproduct. But cost remains a key hindrance as liquid hydrogen remains more expensive to produce than gasoline and adoption of the new fuel standard would require the installation of a network of filling stations capable of pumping hydrogen at minus 418 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 250 degrees Celsius). But Shen said that the prospect for the adoption of fuel cell technology in Taiwan remains high as it is one form of energy the island can domestically produce, helping Taiwan to become self-reliant in terms of energy.

She also said she is “floored by the way the Taiwanese have grabbed this opportunity,” but declined to mention which companies are actively pursuing fuel cell technology. Shen closed by saying that while fuel cells are currently expensive she predicts the cost will come down dramatically once companies can reach economies of scale.