In 2019, the government of Taiwan set a solar target of 6.5GW in cumulative installed capacity by the end of 2020. However, a review of the progress in the installation of new PV systems across the island during 2020 finds that quite a few solar projects were delayed due to the unfavorable changes in land-use regulations and the lack of distribution lines for grid connection. Now, the government says that the 6.5GW target will be reached later in the first quarter of 2021. Moreover, the government has just announced a new target of 8.75GW in cumulative installed capacity for 2021.
Just how far behind is Taiwan in reaching its original target of 6.5GW? According to the information provided by the government-run utility Taipower, the cumulative installed capacity provided by rooftop PV systems and ground-mounted PV power plants came to 5.2GW at the end of November 2020. Furthermore, the cumulative amount of electricity produced by rooftop systems and ground-mounted power plants on the island came to 5,614.32GWh by that time. While these figures show that PV generation in Taiwan has grown significantly, there is still a gap of 1.3GW to fill in order to meet the 6.5GW target.
The biggest barrier to expanding the installation of PV systems in 2020 was the new land-use rules that were introduced by the Council of Agriculture. On July 7 of last year, this government agency announced that it will be the main authority for reviewing applications from solar project developers for a change in the land use of agricultural land. This rule covers parcels of agricultural land sized 2-30ha. Furthermore, parcels of agricultural land and hillside land sized smaller than 2ha cannot be used for the installation of PV systems. Exceptions are allowed for certain cases, such as agricultural lands that are highly fragmented, surrounded by non-agricultural lands, or with rough natural terrains.
The new rules have created some controversy. Participants of the domestic solar industry have been petitioning the government to loosen this aspect of the regulatory regime or provide a longer grace period.
Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua has stated that some solar projects that were supposed to be completed last year are still under construction because of delays in their development schedules. Therefore, she believes that the 6.5GW target will be reached later in the first quarter of this year.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has also recently set a target of 8.75GW in cumulative installed capacity for 2021. This means an addition of 2.2GW by the end of this year. According to Wang, various ministries and agencies will be working together to take inventory of the available land or space that can be used for the installation of PV systems. Places that are under consideration include roofs of agricultural, manufacturing, and public facilities. There are also initiatives to install PV systems above fish ponds (i.e., “aquavoltaics”), above parking lots of the major harbors, and on lands that are heavily polluted. No effort will be spared to achieve this year’s target.
The MOEA has initiated solar projects in industrial parks that are under its administrative jurisdiction. This push is simultaneously taking place in the northern, central, and southern parts of the island. The MOEA is hoping that by the end of this year, local industrial parks will be accommodating 1GW of PV systems. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is also planning to install PV systems on the roofs of the buildings that are under its management and not militarily sensitive. The Council of Agriculture continues to explore the potential of having fish farms and agricultural facilities adopt PV generation. Additionally, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications is taking inventory of the available space in the parking lots under its control across different cities and counties.
Regarding the lack of distribution lines, Taipower is working with the above-mentioned ministries and agencies to extend the transmission network so as to cover the potential sites for solar projects. On the whole, the government is focusing on rooftop PV to achieve its target for this year.
The latest revisions in Taiwan’s Renewable Energy Act came into effect on the first day of this year. Specifically, electricity users whose consumption exceeds 5MW in chartered capacity are now required to source a part of their electricity supply from renewable generation systems or energy storage systems. Those large electricity users that are unable to meet this obligation will have to purchase renewable energy certificates or pay a levy as a substitute.
This mandate is expected to affect hundreds of local companies in many key industrial sectors such as semiconductor components, display panels, steel, petrochemicals, textile, etc. However, the MOEA has pointed out that the mandate will add 1GW of demand into the domestic renewable energy market by forcing the 300 largest electricity users on the island to increase the share of renewable energy in their power consumption. The ministry also expects the mandate to contribute significantly to the growth of the domestic solar industry.