Community energy: A way out of energy transition

Written by Natalie Wong.

Image credit: green energy background by Greens MPs/Flickr, license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Energy transition (能源轉型) is not a recent development among environmental issues in Taiwan. Since the controversies of building nuclear power plants in the 1980s, Taiwan’s citizens have started to discuss alternative energy for sustainable development. In responding to renewable energy use and reducing the ratio of importing energy, the Government has studied energy policy since the 1990s. A result of this being the Government seeks to balance economic development and environmental protection. It also passed the renewable energy act in 2009 to increase the renewable energy capacity in Taiwan to 9.95 GW by 2030. Hence, solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, biomass, and hydro energy are now the primary sources of renewable energy. The Taiwanese Government further promoted energy transition, encouraged citizen participation in energy policy, and also subsidised community solar panel installation in 2013. Later, in 2018, the DPP Government implemented a White Paper for Energy Transition, with the notion of community energy being highlighted. It concluded that during the energy transition, the roles of social force should not be neglected.

Consisting of 18 ENGOs and community colleges, these civil society organisations became allies for promoting the 2015 energy transition. This alliance—the Alliance for Promoting Civic Energy Transition (民間能源轉型推動聯盟)—advocates cooperative work in energy transition through energy education and facilitating local Governments in implementing renewable energy policy. The Homemakers Union Foundation (主婦聯盟環境保護基金會, HUF), one of the members of the aforementioned alliance, aims to aid the initiation of the energy transition, particularly to shape people’s environmental awareness and behaviour in their everyday life.

Founded by a group of homemakers in 1989, the HUF concerns not only family and pedagogical issues but also concerns itself with social change and environmental problems. During environmental campaigns, the HUF promoted green lifestyles by launching different campaigns, such as garbage recycling and green consumption. The HUF also focused on the controversy of building nuclear power plants in relation to the energy transition. Hence, the HUF advocates green energy and a nuclear-free homeland. “I want children, but not nuclear” (我要孩子,不要核子) was the slogan of HUF while debating the building of a proposed nuclear power plant. Later, because of the disaster of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima in 2011, the HUF highlighted the danger of nuclear power to the health of society. They also discussed using renewable energy for sustainable development in Taiwan. The HUF agrees that nuclear power and coal should not be the sole source of power supply for the Island in the future; thus, they advocate for renewable energy.

To achieve the goal of a “nuclear-free homeland,” the HUF raised the importance of citizen participation in energy issues, and also focused on carbon reduction becoming a part of daily practice. In their energy transition policy, the HUF advocates a bottom-up approach in deciding and negotiating the ratio of renewable energy and electricity tariff with the Government. What is more, the HUF initiated a Green Advocates Energy Cooperative 綠主張綠電合作社). Reflecting the experiences of some European countries, this Cooperative consists of community members who decide on the use of electricity in their community. The community members become the joint producers to invest, operate and participate in the generation of electricity for the community energy project. As a result, the members invest in solar panels and aid in the operation of the Cooperative. The community also comes together to develop, deliver and benefit from sustainable energy. They also concern themselves with energy supply projects. These range from energy reduction projects such as energy efficiency and demand management, and also renewable energy installations and storage. Community energy can even include community-based approaches for selling and distributing energy.

The HUF serves a role as a mediator for helping the community in crowdfunding solar panels. For example, the HUF launched the first community energy project in Tainan in 2016. With the HUF’s help in design and installation, the Hung family has now installed 44 panels on house rooftops. Furthermore, 5% of electricity tariffs are now being rebated for energy education in the community. The purpose of launching a community renewable energy project brings a range of benefits and opportunities for households and the wider community. Thus, it not only replaces redundant energy systems but also reduces carbon emission and changes the value of community energy use. The resulting profit from community energy is consequently awarded back for community development, which is beneficial for healthcare, care of the elderly, and also children services. Furthermore, the HUF has issued a handbook about community energy, along with organising workshops. They have also arranged a day trip to promote the importance of green energy to the general public.

Community energy is, therefore, being led by green groups and community members, which reveals their efforts and capacity for community building. In the area of energy transition, green groups are already promoting social innovation and novel approaches to low carbon lifestyles. Although lacking financial support, concerns about ownership models and the use of land are critical challenges in developing community energy. Community energy initiatives provide new opportunities for citizens to get involved in energy matters with the Government.

Natalie Wong is a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong.

This article is part of special issue on energy and environment.

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