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Taiwan aims at 100,000 solar-panel roofs

Taiwan, in an effort to increase the use of solar energy and cut carbon emissions, has taken to the rooftops.

Under the ‘100,000 solar roofs programme’ launched last year, the government plans to spend 280 million dollars in subsidies to encourage the locals to turn their rooftops into sun roofs, said Wang Yun-ming, deputy director of the Bureau of Energy.

‘Initially, we aim to fit 20,000 roofs with solar panels by 2012,’ Wang said.

Energy officials said the first phase will create capacity of 60 megawatt, producing 72 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from solar power annually.

Officials plan to complete the installation on the remaining roofs in five to 10 years. Together with establishment of solar power plants by private investors, the government hopes multiply annual solar-power capacity by 2025. ‘The government plans to boost the use of solar panels by a factor of 200 over the next 15 years to raise the power they generate to 1,000 megawatt from currently 6 megawatt,’ Wang said.

Taiwan has set up solar panels on the roofs of 470 structures with a combined capacity of 6 megawatts since the start of the programme, among them a stadium that hosted the 2009 World Games in the southern city of Kaohsiung.

A total of 8,800 solar panels was used to cover 14,155 square meters of the stadium’s roof.

In December, Taiwan opened its largest solar roof plant in Kaohsiung county, its 141 large-size solar panels have an annual capacity of 1 megawatt, enough to power 1,000 homes.

But this facility will be dwarfed by a project to install 4,600 solar panels in Kaoshiung by May, able to generate 4.6 megawatt annually, the Taiwan Power Company said.

Responding to climate change and its reliance on energy imports, Taiwan plans to inject 250 billion US dollars over the next decade to develop its green energy industry, 38 billion US dollars will go to renewable energy.

Under its green energy development plan, the government will focus on solar energy and light-emitting diodes, officials said. Other areas to be promoted include wind power, bio-fuels, fuel cells and electric vehicles.

Wang said Taiwan already has a well established, diversified solar energy industry and ranks among the leading solar battery suppliers worldwide.

Taiwan uses core photovoltaic technology and research to develop solar cells. Production in 2008 reached nearly 3.2 billion US dollars, up 89 per cent from the previous year.

Taiwan also has one of the highest installed capacities of solar water heaters worldwide, thanks in part to government subsidies.

Energy officials said the government’s green energy plan is also designed to position Taiwan as a leading supplier of solar cells with an annual production value of 14 billion US dollars by 2025.

To boost the policy, parliament passed the island’s first renewable energy development bill in June 2009 in a bid to raise renewable power generation capacity to 10,000 megawatt within 20 years.

The bill, which offers incentives such as subsidies and government buy-back of generated power, has prompted high-tech companies to increase investment in the solar energy sector.

Chen Qan-ju, of the Photonics Industry and Technology Development Association, warned that the rapid increase in solar cell plants could lead to problems within the next years.

‘Except for large plants, small- and medium-size companies could be merged or booted out of the market due to oversupply and stiff competition,’ she said.

Some 70 Taiwan companies are involved in the solar industry and produced polycrystalline silicon solar cells with a combined production capacity of 2 gigawatt last year. With the capacity expected to hit 3 gigawatt this year, market analysts have predicted the solar-cell price to drop by 20 to 30 per cent due to oversupply.