What you need to know
The debate over Taiwan’s electricity shortage revolves around generating power and the sources it comes from, but it's worth considering the other end of the equation – where does it all go?
Taiwan's electrical infrastructure has been walking a razor's edge for the past few years, and the suggestion that Taiwan might not have enough electricity is a frequent matter of debate.
The attempted shuttering of Taiwan's aging nuclear power plants, protests surrounding the use of fossil fuels, and the lethargic adoption of renewable energy have all contributed to the shortage. However, the lack of electricity doesn’t exist in a vacuum – somebody is using it all.
According to data from state-run utility company Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), Taiwan’s electricity consumption has skyrocketed in the past few decades. Taiwan used 100 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1995, but this had doubled by 2013. Most of this growth in demand didn’t come from personal use – it’s not like appliances got less efficient during the past three decades. Where did this power go?
Taipower’s usage data is divided into four categories: residential, industrial, commercial and other. Between 1998 and 2017, power consumption in all four categories increased, but the rate of increase is drastically different between them.
Industrial electricity consumption has nearly doubled between 1998 and 2017; rising from 64 billion kWh per year to 121.2 billion; the only dip occurred in 2009 after many businesses were shuttered in the wake of the global financial collapse.
Industrial energy consumption rose from 50 percent of the total in 1998 to 56 percent in 2017, while residential consumption saw a relative decrease. In other words, personal use only accounts for about 20 percent of the total, while businesses use upwards of 70 percent of total power draw.
Just a few industries consume the lion’s share of power. According to Taipower, the top five industries were electronic component manufacturing (22.6 percent), steel production (7.1 percent), electronic manufacturing (4 percent), plastic product manufacturing (3.3 percent) and data storage equipment manufacturing (3.1 percent).
Before 2000, steel manufacturing used the most electricity, but their consumption levels have stayed steady while the electronics industry has steadily grown more power-hungry, and now eats up more than 30 billion kWh each year.
One-fifth of Taiwan’s power is now used by a single industry, and demand continues to rise.
Note: This data only accounts for electricity supplied by Taipower, so total electricity usage for the country may be slightly higher.
Translation: Morley J Weston
Editor: David Green