Taiwan is an island country with both high biodiversity and high population density. Currently, how we generate electricity is a huge issue in Taiwan. Taiwan has the cheapest electricity prices for industrial users in Asia. This is because almost 50 per cent of our energy is generated by coal-fired power plants. However, using coal increases air pollution and adversely affects peoples’ health. Hsinta, the largest power plant in southern Taiwan, by 2023, will shut down two out of four coal power plants currently operating. In addition, three new gas power plants will be built. Even though gas power plants have been proven to increase air quality, building one is still a huge undertaking, and we need to consider its impact very deeply before we build it. As a result of economic development in Taiwan, more and more power is needed by metropolitan and industrial users. Spaces in the rural “empty” coastal areas are targeted as sites for electricity generation. However, are these spaces really empty? These spaces are needed for wildlife, for the environment, and even for ourselves. Can we take them all? We need the electricity, but we are suffering from the consequences of air pollution, and coastal erosion and subsidence due to the loss of coastal wetlands.
Our vision is to follow natural processes and to respect everything living on the site, both permanent and temporary. The salt industry was once the major source of income for the local people, and is now a wildlife habitat, and a historical location. However, it is also an energy source primarily for people living far from this area. We believe the future plant should operate under three main principles: first, the principle of environmental justice, meaning benefits for local communities from the site; second, the principle of ecological integrity, meaning the harmonious co-existence of the various micro eco-systems at the site; third, the law of energy conservation, meaning no energy loss or waste. Recrystallization is a natural phenomenon. By definition, recrystallization is a metamorphic process that occurs under high temperature and pressure. In the field of geology, the term “recrystallization” means the growth of crystal with the mineral composition remaining unchanged. In the field of chemistry, it means the purification of the crystal. In the field of metallurgy, it is the process of reducing structural imperfection. For us, our concept of recrystallization is keeping the local, natural, social and historical elements of the site, letting the habitat develop naturally, purifying the environment, and changing the system to one where local communities get greater benefits from the operations of the plant. Therefore, we have rethought the systems in and around our site, including energy, carbon, physics, chemistry and hydrological cycles. The natural environment must be a balanced system. Energy consumption generates better economic development, but at the same time sacrifices the local environment and living conditions. This is clearly unbalanced. Our design will create a new balance by decomposing the system and its energy flows. Heat left over from the turbine generators will go into the economic cycle to warm the local fish farms, or into the social cycle to be reused by the local community. There will be no CO2 or particles, such as PM2.5 or PM10 released from the plant. It will be captured on site. Even though it is impossible for the site to be carbon neutral, because the energy generated is transmitted and used off-site, our proposed plan utilizes virtually the entire plant as a carbon sink to maximize carbon sequestration naturally.
A next-generation power plant should play the role of “recrystallizing” the original elements of its location, including habitat, nature, and social welfare. First, from the perspective of migrating birds, the compact, eco-friendly power plant is located on the least environmentally sensitive part of the site and is hidden by a natural skin. Three centralized air chimneys provide a green structure to serve both energy and ecological purposes. The plant forms a shape that follows the seasonal air current, which will lead the migrating birds down into the diverse wetland habitats. From the roof level, we can see how the plant itself is, in fact, a carbon sink. Solar panels on the top will be repositioned from the photovoltaic system currently located in the southwest of the site. Below the solar panels is a double skin green façade that connects to the centralized chimneys. The inner layer of the skin protects the power plant, and the outer layer will provide space for plants and maximize carbon sequestration. Airflow between the layers will reduce the building temperature, provide natural ventilation for wetlands, and change the local micro-climate to improve air quality. From the ground level, diverse wetlands, open water, ponds, marshes and mangroves will be restored based on natural wildlife habitats. The sociocultural life of local communities will be reconnected to the site through various activities. People will enjoy sports, swimming, walking, and bird watching in a natural setting without visual and noise disturbance from the plant. Our design uses a topographical approach which forms a harmonious earth-scape that blends human activities safely into the site. The site will welcome visitors to get close to the natural environment, learn about local history, and understand the process of power generation. We believe this will help people to understand the value of electricity whenever they turn on the lights.
Recrystallization – Hsinta Ecological Power Plant from jhengru on Vimeo.
Design Team – MEPM lab.
Design Credits (Text, image and Animation) – Prof. Shiauyun Lu, Jhengru Li, Tzuman Tseng, Hsianghsiang Wang
Location – Kaohsiung City, Taiwan
Status – Hsinta Ecological Power Plant Construction Project Conceptual Design International Competition Third Prize