Strong computing gives impetus to Taiwan's zero-carbon vision

Apple Lin, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Faa-Jeng Lin, president of NARLabs. Credit: NCHC

Due to the escalating severity of climate change, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 has been included as a key target for sustainable operation by many governments and large corporations around the world. As a global technology hub, it is necessary for Taiwan to undertake energy transformation for the purposes of domestic environmental protection and overseas customer orders. Therefore, the government officially initiated a number of green energy policies in 2016. Professor Faa-Jeng Lin, president of the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs), pointed out that in order to successfully achieve net zero carbon emissions, the corresponding technological support is a must. The high-performance computing services provided by the National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC) of NARLabs is the key driver behind the energy transformation.

In 2016, the government announced that Taiwan would embark on a period of energy transformation, and set a target in which green energy should account for 20% of domestic electricity generation by 2025. Lin pointed out that it is the right policy in terms of its direction and objectives, mentioning that the percentage of self-generated energy in Taiwan, including coal and natural gas, is very low. 95% of our energy must rely on imports. Nevertheless, renewable energy such as solar energy and wind power, which can be obtained locally, can make Taiwan energy independent, facilitate domestic environmental protection, and alleviate the carbon reduction pressure faced by companies in overseas markets in recent years.

After setting the direction for the energy transformation process, national policies on solar energy, offshore wind power, and smart grids have been successively launched. The supporting measures formulated by the National Development Council, the Environmental Protection Administration, and various state-owned enterprises have also been implemented. In addition to the 20% green energy target by 2025, from 2026 to 2035, the government also plans to add 1.5GW of offshore wind power each year. Overall, green energy will account for 60% to 70% of Taiwan's total electricity generation by 2050, which seems to be a far-fetched goal. However, Lin believes it is an achievable goal with strong government backing and technological support.

Strong Backing in Policy and Technology Support Facilitate Successful Energy Transformation

Currently, the government is working with the industrial sector to overcome a number of challenges to fulfill the 20% green energy target by 2025. The first approach is to install an energy storage system in wind and solar power plants. Lin mentioned that the power generation efficiency of these two types of renewable energy is unstable. Therefore, an energy storage system is required to store power for peak hours and smooth the power generation process. This way, power companies can better distribute electricity. Another advantage of installing an energy storage system is to solve the problem of insufficient hosting capacity of renewable energy in the distribution systems. Part of the solar power generated during the day can be stored in the energy storage system and released at night during peak hours. This can significantly increase the hosting capacity.

The second approach is to provide a frequency regulation service through automatic frequency control (AFC). This service can actively adjust the charging and discharging of batteries in the energy storage system to regulate the frequency of the power system and avoid frequency drift caused by load fluctuations in the power system. AFC is deemed to be an important technology for renewable energy, and it has already been applied in other countries. Currently, Taiwan has already initiated projects pertaining to AFC.

While overcoming immediate challenges, the government is also planning for the future. Lin pointed out that with the promotion of policies, the supply of renewable energy will exceed demand in Taiwan in the future. As an island, Taiwan is unable to engage in curtailment of solar and wind power like other inland countries. In this regard, the remaining renewable energy can be used to generate hydrogen energy by electrolyzing seawater or freshwater. Hydrogen, which produces only water after combustion, is considered the cleanest energy, and can be incorporated into the mixed combustion of gas turbines at power plants or factory boilers. The integration of hydrogen and renewable energy can make the vision of net zero carbon emissions come true.

In order to realize the above visions, cooperation between industry, government, and academia is the key. NARLabs, which is responsible for R&D of forward-looking technologies, will transfer cutting-edge technologies for net zero emissions to industry in the future. The Ministry of Economic Affairs will then take over the task of assisting domestic enterprises in implementing such technologies. This will facilitate energy transformation in industry, thereby achieving sustainable development.

Supercomputer Enhances Overall Efficiency of Smart Grid

Lin also stated that NARLabs is tasked with the responsibility of undertaking research and technology in Taiwan. Some of its research centers are engaging in research closely related to net zero carbon emissions. For example, the Taiwan Ocean Research Institute (TORI) uses marine research vessels to explore the seabed, while the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering (NCREE) analyzes soil liquefaction of the seabed. Such huge amounts of information are computed by TAIWANIA supercomputers in NCHC. The results are then provided to the relevant units as a reference for the installation of offshore wind power piles.

Lin pointed out that the data volume of the power system is staggering, and this requires TAIWANIA to perform computational simulation and analysis before the benefits of the system can be optimized, citing the smart grid as an example. Renewable energy may be generated at sea, on farmland, or at the tops of buildings, whereas the power grid adopts a distributed architecture. Compared with the traditional centralized power grid using thermal and hydroelectric power generation, it is very difficult for a distributed power grid to manage the quality of electricity and allotment of power. The power from various locations tends to produce harmonics, reactive power, voltage drop, and an unbalanced three-phase current. It is therefore necessary to perform compensation to ensure stable quality of the power supply.

At the same time, the electricity allotment of the distributed power grid is also moved downward to the distribution office from the original power plant. In addition, Taipower is currently investing in the construction of a fault detection, isolation, and restoration (FDIR) system, which can automatically detect faulty nodes and causes of failure of the grid before restoring the power supply. The entire process must be completed within five seconds. This is to enable the large power distribution system to accurately and quickly detect the cause of failure and restore power supply. As such, the supercomputer TAIWANIA in NCHC is required to perform high-performance computing simulation and analysis in advance so as to establish a smart power grid and create a power system that has a balanced supply and demand.

Last but not least, Lin mentioned that the power system data is already massive to begin with. Now, the addition of a renewable energy system has made the overall data even more complex. Without the corresponding computing capacity, the grid efficiency will not be able to meet the needs of society. Therefore, the high-performance computing provided by NCHC is undoubtedly necessary to facilitate energy transformation. With the full support of the government, the establishment of TAIWANIA 4 and 5 in NCHC is well underway to provide greater computing power. This will surely contribute to the development of the country and industry in the future.