Taiwan is planning to buy drone jamming guns to protect its power plants, which it fears could be among the first targets of a Chinese invasion.
The guns and a passive radar detection and response system would form a two-tier defense structure to deter sabotage and attacks on critical infrastructure, the ministry of economic affairs said last week.
Taiwan’s close observation of Russia’s war with Ukraine and the extensive use of drones in the conflict was behind the move to boost the defenses of its electricity grid and nuclear power facilities, officials said.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has in recent years increased its military intimidation of the island democracy, flying fighter jets on a near daily basis close to its airspace. Outlying Taiwanese islands, which have sensitive military bases, have also seen a surge of commercial drone intrusions.
Taipower, a state-owned electric power company, has approved an initial £250,000 budget for a first batch of 60 drone jamming guns.
Even if it is able to safeguard its power plants in the event of a conflict, energy security remains an Achilles heel for Taiwan.
The densely populated island of 23.5 million, which dominates the global supply of semiconductors, is one of the world’s most energy-insecure economies, relying on maritime imports for about 97 per cent of its energy.
The over-dependence on imports has raised fears that Beijing could choke off Taiwan’s energy supplies – crippling its economy and infrastructure – through a naval blockade without resorting to a full invasion. According to some predictions, gas stockpiles would last for only 11 days.
Securing Taiwan’s energy reserves will be one of the major challenges facing Lai Ching-te, the new president, after his inauguration in May.
Mr Lai must quickly decide whether to plow ahead with the planned decommission of all nuclear plants by 2025 – a decision that could boost his popularity ratings but further strain the power grid.
Taiwan has already committed to net zero – reducing reliance on fossil fuels – by 2050, and to increase renewables from the current eight per cent of the energy mix to about 30 per cent by 2030.
The UK is at the forefront of helping to strengthen the island’s renewables industry.
Taiwan is the UK’s largest offshore wind market in the Asia Pacific region, and one the UK export credit agency has been keen to back with more than £1.2 billion in financial guarantees, including for the Hai Long wind farm, the island’s largest project to date .
Enhanced trade deal with Britain
British investment in Taiwan’s renewables sector is set to rise after London and Taipei signed an enhanced trade partnership in November, and British companies, with extensive North Sea experience, are uniquely placed to partner with Taiwanese companies to build up off-shore wind facilities.
Many UK companies have already been operating in Taiwan for years.
“We can bring that British engineering knowledge and trusted brand to support them on what are huge investments,” said James Taylor, regional manager for Northeast Asia for Mott MacDonald, an engineering consultancy providing technical advice on Taiwan’s solar and offshore wind projects.
But experts warn that Taiwan still faces a mammoth task ahead to meet its energy security challenges even if offshore wind offers a partial solution.
The urgency of the issue was rammed home in 2022 during China’s furious reaction to the arrival of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Taipei, when its military launched missiles, war games and drills designed to practice “blockade” operations.
“As it stands right now, Taiwan would most likely only be able to last a few weeks if there was a total blockade of all energy imports, said Joseph Webster, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.
“In terms of how Taiwan can resolve this issue or mitigate the risk, it’s an extremely challenging problem,” he said. “There is no silver bullet solution.”