For many international investors, Taiwan represents something of a ground zero for renewable energy development. In fact, the seed of this market has been germinating for over two decades in Taiwan, and it now represents a multi-billion-dollar industry. Among the pioneers of Taiwan’s renewable energy renaissance is German developer wpd, who had entered Taiwan’s market in 2000, and built the first wind farm in Taiwan in 2005. wpd reached milestone after milestone in moving Taiwan toward a cleaner energy future.
As one of the first foreign renewable energy firms to penetrate the Taiwan market, wpd took a leading role in promoting the transformation of Taiwan’s energy mix to include more green forms of power generation and fewer fossil fuels, which later became one of the Tsai Ing-wen administration’s core policy aims.
wpd was also instrumental in developing the legal framework for renewable energy in Taiwan, providing the first draft of what would eventually become the Renewable Energy Development Act. And the company helped open the door for green energy trading. Whereas previously, renewable energy firms were only allowed to sell power to state-owned Taiwan Power Company to be subsequently dispatched to end users, thanks to the efforts of wpd and others, it can now be sold directly to private companies.
According to wpd Taiwan Chairperson Yuni Wang, it was only after these ideas the company had seeded were picked up by the government that the industry really started to take off, with offshore and onshore wind and solar energy developers and investors rushing in to take part in the booming business.
wpd’s current assets in Taiwan include around 450 megawatts of onshore wind power and 16.4MW of installed photovoltaic capacity. In addition, the company is currently developing offshore wind capacity in Taiwan as well. Its Yunlin offshore wind farm, currently under construction, will account for most of that capacity. A significant feature of this project is that 50% of the components used in its construction are made by local Taiwanese manufacturers.
Wang notes that wpd is the only renewable energy firm in Taiwan to have completely fulfilled its commitment to using local content, but notes that meeting that goal has not always been particularly easy. She points to wpd’s experience contracting a local engineering firm to produce the transition pieces (TP) – tubular structures that are fastened to the foundation of the wind turbine – for Yunlin.
Wang says the local firm did not have a lot of experience with producing the TPs, and wpd needed to bring in an outside expert from Europe to help them revise their production plan to meet international standards. The suggestions caused some friction, she says, as “changing up the workflows meant investing more money.”
“Fortunately, the local company was very committed and professional, and wanted a long-term plan to enter the renewables industry,” Wang says. “In the end, they accepted our suggestions and produced high-quality TPs on time. This was a very great achievement.” She adds that despite the increased time, expenses, and manpower foreign firms must invest upfront to meet local content requirements, over a sustained period, it saves companies on transportation costs and provides them with some flexibility in case anything goes wrong. “In the long term, everyone benefits from this localization policy,” she says.
Fulfilling its local content commitment is far from the only challenge wpd has surmounted during its nearly 20 years of operating in Taiwan. Wang also describes the stigma and misconceptions the company has encountered regarding renewable energy, including concerns about turbine noise and shadow flicker – the effect of the sun shining through wind turbine blades and causing a moving shadow.
She says that to break through some of these issues, “public education and communication are the most important actions a company can take.” Before the wpd’s first onshore wind project was built, the company had visited to villages near the wind farm. “We tried to answer all their questions and make them feel more comfortable about our project,” Wang says, noting that those actions help to build goodwill and support for renewable energy among local residents.
Last December, wpd signed a renewable power purchase agreement with a local Taiwanese company for more than 1GW of wind capacity (with around half coming from offshore wind and the other half from its onshore wind assets), the largest such contract in Asia. Wang, for her part, views this as strong symbol of the self-reliant nature of Taiwan’s renewable energy industry. “Also, it shows that Taiwan’s green energy market is very big, and more companies have a large demand for renewable power,” she says.