2015年2月12日 星期四

‘Lovers Love, Haters Hate’ – the issue with fossil fuels, nuclear, CCS and renewables – Can we afford to say no?

" ...the ‘2050 Calculator’ is a refreshing approach to thinking through how we might solve the misalignment of demand and supply. The concept of the calculator is one in which individuals can experiment with a wide range of behavioral decisions and tolerance for energy options."
Young female polar bear (Photo by Michael Bamford via Flickr)

Angela Yeh, Climate and Energy Project Officer at Delta Electronics Foundation

The short but sweet visit of the Former UK Chief Scientific Advisor of DECC (Department of Climate Change and Energy), Prof. David Mackay, brought with him – not only his scientific insights on global warming, but also a paradigm-shifting-type of thinking to the very stagnant energy policy conversation in Taiwan. Weeks before Prof. Mackay’s visit, Taiwan held its National Energy Conference. And as most national meetings go, regardless of subject, very limited (if any) consensus was reached. I apologize that this post will not be about the gridlock of the energy debate in Taiwan (as interesting as it otherwise would have been) – but will be about why and how we should view the energy problem with, hopefully, a fresher pair of lens.

英國能源暨氣候變遷部前首席科學顧問專家,大衛‧馬凱教授(David Mackay)短暫但親切地拜訪台灣,他所分享的不僅是對全球暖化的科學見解,也為停滯不前的台灣能源政策,帶來能促使典範移轉的思考。其實就在馬凱教授來訪前,台灣才召開了全國能源會議,如同大多數的國家級會議,這場會議達成共識有限。很抱歉這篇文章並非要談台灣能源論辯的僵局,而是關於我們為何,以及該如何以更不落伍的視角,希望如此,來看待能源問題。

One interesting viewpoint Prof. Mackay offered was that energy solutions should not be presented to policy makers as separate items on a menu of options, but should be presented in ‘packages’ – i.e. different portfolios of energy mixes. If you ask, “do we want wind energy?” The answer is probably no – there will be oppositions from the economists, from the oil and gas industries, and even the environmental community. If you ask – “do we want nuclear?” Obviously, the answers will be overwhelmingly polarized. However, if the question is – “given the existing energy demands, and the existing energy sources available (technologically and financially) – what solutions should remain on the table?” Then it would be very difficult to remove wind power, solar energy, nuclear, or any solution off the table – if we truly want to see supply and demand add up. The takeaway from this is that, one of the reasons policies fail is because of ‘wishful thinking’, which leads to incompatible policies. Yes, it would be nice if we could harness the energy solely from the sun – but to power the entire UK for example, would require 2.5 times the size of the United Kingdom to meet the energy demand nationally.


Taiwan and the UK have a lot of similarities in terms of their energy challenges – both are islands with limited indigenous energy resources, and both import roughly 90 percent of their respective energies from abroad (most of which are fossil fuels). Similarly, both countries have highly mature democratic systems that not only allow for freedom of speech, but public expressions and demonstrations of preference (or in most cases, non-preference in the most modest terms). In Taiwan, the anti-nuclear movement that was heavily influenced by civil societies, students and environmentalists have essentially stopped the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant. In the UK, a ‘consultation exercise’ can take place where public engagement sometimes impacts, or dictates the adoption (or non-adoption) of a particular energy deployment (e.g., wind power in Scotland). There remains, however, differences between the two – one of which lies in the countries’ respective openness to conventionally controversial energy solutions. For example, nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and storage) are very much still part of the solution in UK’s energy strategy moving forward, albeit their controversies. But it is difficult to visualize such solutions being deployed at commercial scale in Taiwan, if they ever make their way past the general public’s personal prejudice and unusual levels of scrutiny. The bottom line is that we need to stop being so emotional about the already limited energy options we have, and start looking at the numbers and the facts. 

在能源的課題上,台灣和英國有諸多的相似之處─兩者都是自產能源有限的島國,都自外國進口大約九成的能源(多數為化石燃料)。同樣地,兩國都擁有高度成熟的民主制度,不僅允許言論自由,也都允許公眾對表達自身偏好選擇或上街頭表達訴求 (或者說,在大多數情況下,民眾是走上街去反對那些自己不喜歡的選項)。在台灣,民間社會、學生和環保人士深度動員的反核運動,已經使得核四廠停建。在英國,則會透過「公眾諮詢程序」讓受影響或擁有決策權的民眾,得以參與討論某個特定的能源設置案能不能夠通過(例如在蘇格蘭設立風力發電)。然而,台英兩國仍有差異,其中一點,就是兩國面對傳統上爭議性的能源選項時,有不同的開放態度。例如,核能和CCS(碳捕捉和封存)都還是英國未來能源政策的一部分,儘管有所爭議。但就很難想像要在台灣以商業規模來設置這樣爭議性十足的能源選項,是否會遭到大眾的偏見質疑或以不尋常的高標準檢視。底線是,我們須停止這樣情緒化,畢竟我們有的能源選項已經有限,並開始訴諸於數據和事實。

Taiwan's version of 2050 Calculator
That brings me to my last point – the ‘2050 Calculator’ is a refreshing approach to thinking through how we might solve the misalignment of demand and supply. The concept of the calculator is one in which individuals can experiment with a wide range of behavioral decisions and tolerance for energy options, with the ultimate goal of having demand and supply add up. Surprisingly, individual ‘diets’ alone can reduce carbon emissions by 1/4 if one is committed to an ‘average Indian diet’ as opposed to an ‘average European diet’. To take the commitment to an even more ambitious level, the ‘types of meat’ consumed could potentially reduce emissions by over 30 percent. Through the Global Calculator, one could also experiment with different energy technology options – it is perhaps not too convenient to rule out CCS or nuclear if one wants to keep the same lifestyle choices. After all, having the cake and eat it too might just be a little bit idealistic. It is about time that we start taking the reality of the energy challenge seriously.


The Global Calculator 
Taiwan's version of 2050 Calculator