It’s not just Nuclear — As Demand Surges, nearly 10% of Capacity is Offline

Power demand rose 3% in the first quarter of 2021, and Taipower’s capacity has not kept pace.

Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County. Photo: Jnlin/Wikimedia Commons

Taipower’s reserve margin sat uncomfortably in the yellow at 6.19% today, just 0.2% above the critical Red Line. This decline in reserve margins is at least partly due to a current reduction in nuclear power. Nuclear power comprised less than 8% of today’s energy mix, down from the typical 12%. Maanshan NPP3 unit 1 is still offline for its annual maintenance but even more crucially, Kuosheng NPP2 unit 1 is already starting to wind down. Throughout April this unit has been operating at 96.34% capacity (Taipower data), but has now begun its inevitable decline. The lack of spent fuel storage capacity prevents the reactor from being refueled, and it will be permanently shut down probably by the end of May.

Maanshan unit 1 is still down for maintenance as Kuosheng unit 1 winds down.

The nuclear plants are at least partially making up for this shortfall through the operation of their emergency natural gas turbines, which are intended to maintain power in the event of a nuclear disaster. These were operating at high capacity today.

It’s not just Maanshan unit 1 that is down for maintenance, however. When the power went out on May 13, nearly 4.6GW of generating capacity was offline for maintenance, amounting to 9.24% of Taipower’s total installed capacity. This is almost equivalent to the 10% of reserve capacity Taipower claimed to have available at the time of the outage.  

The state-owned utility was chided by Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua during an online press briefing yesterday for having so many units down simultaneously. She also called for Taipower to upgrade its power distribution systems and to revise how it calculates reserve margins. Longer terms goals include upgrading the grid and improving regional development.

“Thorough improvement is necessary,”she said during an online press conference.

Plants that are currently offline due to maintenance include:

  • Unit 1 of the Third Nuclear Plant (951MW)
  • Unit 3 of Linkou Coal (800MW)
  • Unit 3 of Mailiao Coal (600MW)  — now back in service
  • Unit 6 of Datan Combined Cycle Gas (724MW)
  • Unit 2 of Xingda Combined Cycle Gas (445MW)
  • Unit 6 of Dalin Gas (550MW)
  • Unit 4 of Concord fuel oil (500MW)

Total capacity currently offline is 3,970MW.

Power Demand

Taiwan’s need for electricity has risen sharply over the past year, and the MOEA reported yesterday that power demand increased 2.1% in 2020 on surging industrial production and repatriation of manufacturing capacity. Power consumption reached 271,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) (note – this includes Taipower’s generation as well as industrial self-generation) in 2020, and that rise has only gained so far in 2021. Industrial production rose 6.8% and exports 4.9% in 2020 compared with 2019, according to MOEA data. Demand from the industrial sector, which consumed 56% of Taiwan’s power in 2019 (Taipower Sustainability Report 2020), rose by 2.1%, while residential demand rose 6.4%. Taipower reports that Q1 2021 power demand rose another 3%.  

The MOEA sees power demand rising by 2.5% annually through 2027, higher than the previous decade’s average of around 1.7%, as Taiwan’s industrial resurgence looks set to continue.

To meet this rising demand, gas-fired power capacity will be increased by a net 14.5GW within the next seven years. This capacity, however, is constrained by Taiwan’s LNG (liquified natural gas) importation capacity.  The MOEA admits that the Third Terminal at Kwangtung in Taoyuan will be delayed until 2025. Sources from several companies working on the project say it will be likely be delayed even longer, not to mention that it faces a referendum this August. Taipower’s Taichung LNG terminal has not even passed its EIA, nor has the LNG terminal planned for Keelung needed to fuel the proposed natural gas power plants that are to replace the fuel oil units currently in operation.

The MOEA also continues to express confidence that coal-fired power will be reduced even lower than 30%, to 27%, and touts reductions in coal fired power in 2020. Taipower’s data this year shows most coal-fired units operating at full power, though.

The ministry is also fully confident that Taiwan will see its full capacity of 20GW of solar and 5.7GW of offshore wind delivered on time by 2025, to offset the loss of all nuclear power.

That, however, is not likely, most sources within the industry agree, .

Regardless, the capacity that is currently offline for maintenance should be up and running within days or weeks, ameliorating the power situation at least somewhat. Maanshan unit 1 has been approved by the Atomic Energy Council for restart earlier than scheduled, and it is ramping up at this moment. Taipower anticipates an improved reserve margin over the next few days, albeit only slightly.

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