Strait wind

Elaine Maslin

July 1, 2017

The Taiwan Strait could be on the verge of an offshore wind boom. Elaine Maslin reports on ambitious targets and challenges.

Image from iStock.

Taiwan has set itself an ambitious offshore energy target, using both offshore wind and marine energy, to get itself off nuclear power by 2025, with 20% renewable energy by the same date.

To do this, the country wants to build out 3GW of offshore wind capacity by 2025, and increase that to 4GW by 2030. To put that in context, the UK, which has led European offshore wind build out, has 5GW installed to date, while Taiwan has just 8MW.

“We are at an early stage,” Prof. Kuang-Chong Wu, CEO of the National Energy Program-Phase II (NEP-II), told OE at All Energy in Glasgow in May. “At this point we only have two, 4MW turbines erected,” he says. These were at the Formosa I project, installed by Swancor and operating in 15-35m water depth, 2-6km offshore, from February this year. Denmark’s DONG Energy has 35% interest in this project, which is expected to be built out into a 120MW farm, with construction expected in 2019.

Another 16MW, through two 8MW turbines, was due to be installed at Fuhai by TGC (Taiwan Generations Corp.) in 2017. Taiwan is hoping to have demo wind farms totaling 520MW via 120 turbines by 2020, before reaching its 3GW by 2025.

On the Strait and narrow

To meet its goals, the country has its sight set on the Taiwan Strait, a 180km stretch of water between it and China that runs along Taiwan’s west coast. The strait has been the subject of various disputes over the years. This area, with sub-50m water depths, has wind from the northeast blowing at 10-15m/sec, Wu says. About 36 potential offshore wind sites have been identified and laid out by the Taiwanese government, at about 30-40km off the coast.

DONG Energy is involved in four offshore wind sites in the Changhua region, which NEP says could have 2GW capacity when completed, sometime between 2021-24. Wu says that fixed turbines would be used, but floating foundations are also being considered. But, Taiwan doesn’t currently have the technology it needs to build out wind farms in these waters.

On the east coast of the country there are strong currents, moving north at a steady 1-2m/sec, which could also be tapped through marine energy devices, Wu says. But, the steep seafloor gradient - it drops away to about 1000m, just 203km from shore, poses a challenge for possible marine energy devices, he says.

Both sets of challenges are why Taiwanese officials have been visiting Europe to speak with European companies with experience in the area, such as Vattenfall’s Aberdeen Bay wind farm. But, ultimately, Taiwan wants to build its own capability and infrastructure.

Second coming

Andy Oldroyd, managing director at Oldbaum Services, an offshore wind consultancy, says Taiwan has been interested in offshore wind for some time. Attempts in the late 2000s stalled when European companies that had entered the market, but were set back by a lack of legislation and finance. Since then, there has been legislation put in place and three pilot projects initiated: Formosa, led by Swancor; Fuhai, led by TGC; and Changhua, led by TPC (Taiwan Power Co.). Formosa, supported by DONG, is the most advanced.

Wind speeds are cited as 10m+/sec, Oldroyd says. However, there’s large variation in speed and a lack of data, making things difficult,” he told All Energy.

“Annual wind patterns need to be studied in more detail. Soil conditions are generally terrible, a lot of mud and silt. Also, it’s an earthquake region.”

Oldroyd says that Taiwan’s ambitious timeframe is relatively tight, but they have two different financial support mechanisms, one with 20-year guaranteed income.

However, barriers remain, such as access to finance, access to infrastructure, i.e. established ports, access to equipment, and a concern that some companies would use obsolete machines, i.e. older 4MW devices.

“Fishing is one of the main barriers to offshore wind in most of the Asian markets,” he adds. And then design codes will also be a consideration. “IEC and DNV codes are based on data from the North Sea, which bears no relation to what happens in Taiwan, which has cyclones. There were a number of turbine failures last year when cyclones went through. There is an investigation into that.”

Within the 36 areas earmarked for wind farms there are also shipping concerns, and a cluster of the turbines, mapped out in the middle of the area, is very tightly spaced, which could reduce wind conversion efficiency, he says, which could also make it unattractive to investors.