Shift to Renewable Energy in Korea

Master plan calls for drastic expansion of solar, wind power

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has announced a draft of the country’s long-term energy master plan which calls for expanding the portion of renewable power sources to 30 percent to 35 percent by 2040. If the draft is finalized as planned, the portion will increase significantly from 7.6 percent in 2017.

The third basic energy plan tells us that the country cannot sit on its hands unless it wants to lag far behind advanced economies which are adamant to increase the use of renewable energy. Still Korea’s target falls short of a prediction by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that renewable sources will account for 40 percent of the total global energy supply in 2040.

However, some industry experts point out that Korea’s plan will be far more difficult to achieve than that of any other countries. The reason is because we have the natural environment unfavorable to solar and wind power and the unique structure of energy demand. 

According to official statistics, coal represented 41.9 percent of the country’s electricity generation last year, followed by nuclear with 23.4 percent and LNG with 26.8 percent. In order to reduce the emissions of find dust and greenhouse gases, the ministry has already vowed to cut down on power generation from coal by shutting down old facilities and banning new plants.

In many respects, the reduction of the coal-fired power plants is a step in the right direction. Yet it is not easy to pick up the slack to be created by the curtailment. The government plans to increase electricity generation from LNG which will require more costs due to high prices of imports.

As for renewable sources, the government needs to drastically increase investment in harnessing solar and wind power as well as hydrogen. This is easier said than done. The authorities therefore should work out detailed plans to expand clean and safe energy sources.

Making matters more complicated, President Moon Jae-in’s nuclear phase-out policy makes it harder to meet energy demand without resorting to thermal power generation. The Moon government says it can achieve the policy without hiking utility charges. But policymakers appear to be out of touch with
the stark reality that a nuclear phase-out will eventually raise the cost of power generation.

Together with massive investment, the government should reform the structural problems of energy overconsumption. Korea, the world’s 12th-largest economy in terms of GDP, is the eighth-largest consumer of energy. Ninety-four percent of energy sources such as oil come from imports.

Also important is to develop renewable power generation as the nation’s new growth engine. We have to make all-out efforts to cut our dependency on fossil fuels and shift to renewable sources. The sooner, the better. 


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