Human technology

EDITORIAL: Fix the national power grid

A nationwide blackout on Thursday left 5.49 million homes and businesses, mostly in the south, without power. Although the outage caused severe damage to businesses in the Kaohsiung and Tainan industrial parks – ranging from electronics makers and steel producers to petrochemical companies, as well as the agriculture and fishing sectors in the Pingtung County – the crucial semiconductor and information technology sectors were largely unaffected, as they are either in science parks in northern or central Taiwan or have their own power generation systems.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花) and the management of Taiwan Power (Taipower) apologized for the incident, which they attributed to human error.

However, the latest incident – the third massive blackout in two years and the worst since 2017 – has again heightened concerns over the government’s commitment to providing a stable supply of electricity, jeopardizing the national goal of increasing national investments.

Improper handling of switches at the Hsinta Power Station in Kaohsiung (興達電廠) on Thursday during its annual maintenance caused the generators to trip, which in turn tripped the circuit breakers at the Longqi Extra High Voltage Substation from Tainan (龍崎超高壓變電所) in Tainan, eventually causing the closure of several power plants in the south, cutting off a third of the country’s electricity supply.

Nationwide blackouts seem to have become commonplace in recent years, causing unnecessary losses for households and businesses. The previous massive blackout occurred on August 15, 2017, affecting 5.92 million households, and the major blackouts on May 13 and 17 last year caused 4.15 million and 1 million respectively to lose power. of users. Unlike outages caused by typhoons, heavy rains or earthquakes, almost all major outages in recent years are due to operational negligence.

Last week’s incident appeared to be an equipment malfunction at first glance, but an initial investigation by Taipower revealed that plant personnel failed to follow standard operating procedures for maintenance and repairs. repairs. With negligence playing a major role in the outages, it is clear that Taipower is in crisis, with issues ranging from corporate culture and management to equipment maintenance and power grid construction.

The failures should not have happened. The government should hold the culprits accountable and seriously review the stability of the national grid and the resilience of its key energy infrastructure. The safety management and maintenance of power plants, as well as the design and stability of power grids, are crucial to the government’s goal of transforming Taiwan’s electricity supply by 2025.

In recent years, the government has allocated many resources and made great efforts to develop new energy sources, such as offshore wind farms and solar power plants. The reality is that existing power plants and substations are aging and urgently in need of upgrading or renewal, but these projects have experienced repeated delays during construction for regulatory or environmental reasons, which is why people are increasingly concerned about the country’s electricity supply. .

Taiwan’s network of power transmission and distribution facilities is vulnerable. Some experts have suggested creating smart, regional power grids to diversify the risks and limit the effects of a malfunction, rather than using a centralized system, based on a few large power plants. If human error is unavoidable, the national power grid must be more resilient.

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