South Korea is currently in the full swing of developing renewable generation on account of its government’s goal to increase the portion of renewables in the domestic electricity mix to 20% by 2030. In late October, the Korean government announced an ambitious plan to establish 3GW of PV generation and 1GW of offshore wind generation in Saemangeum, a tidal flat on the coast of the Yellow Sea. Once completed, the project would make Saemangeum one of the largest renewable energy production centers in the world.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in formally revealed the plan on 30 October at a renewable energy summit held in Saemangeum. President Moon pointed out that this renewable energy project, which is one of the world’s largest to date, will help raise the competitiveness of the country’s energy sector. It is also going to be a concrete step forward in the nation’s transition from a society based on the fossil fuel economy to one that is mainly powered by renewable energies.
According to the government’s press statements on the subject, the entire project, which will occupy 9.36% of the total area of Saemangeum, is expected to attract investments totaling around KRW 10 trillion (TWD 268.7 billion). The initial stage of development encompasses the deployment of 2.4GW of PV generation and 600MW of offshore wind generation by 2022.
Furthermore, around 100 manufacturing companies, R&D centers, and certification agencies will be setting up shop in Saemangeum Green Energy Industrial Park over the next decade, creating approximately 100,000 new jobs and over KRW 25 trillion in related investments.
At the summit, President Moon said that the world is welcoming the era of renewable energies, and South Korea needs to adapt to the trend. He noted that just 8% of South Korea’s total electricity generation comes from renewable energies, and this share figure is much lower than the 25% standard set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Hence, the Moon administration has identified the development of the domestic renewable energy industry as one of its “hundred key priorities.” Moreover, the government has launched the “3020 Policy” that aims to expand the share of renewable energies in the country’s total electricity generation to at least 20% by 2030.
The massive project in Saemangeum is not without its critics, who have pointed out that President Moon did not disclose this plan during his previous visit to the area in 2017. At that time, the president promised to transform Saemangeum into a major economic hub in the Yellow Sea region. However, he did not mention the government’s intention to build solar and wind power generation facilities in the area. The plan therefore lacks public approval.
In response to the criticisms, the Korean government has stated that the renewable energy project will not negatively affect the existing infrastructure, nor will it clash with the promise to build the area up as an economic hub of the region. Since the project has yet to enter the development phase, the government is not planning to hold consultation with the local residents and the wider public on this matter. Discussions with the local residents will take place when the applications related to the construction of solar and wind power facilities are formally submitted.
Despite the big announcement, the Saemangeum project have many obstacles that lay ahead of its development. At the same time, achieving the 2030 target is going to be a difficult undertaking for the Korean government. Presently, the country’s 24 nuclear power plants are responsible for providing about a third of the domestic electricity supply. However, the government also plans to gradually decommission all of them. Following the decommissioning schedule, the Korean government is going to reduce the number of existing plants to 14 by 2038 and attain nuclear-free status for the whole country by 2060.
Lowering carbon emission and air pollution is another major theme in South Korea’s recent energy policies in addition to expanding renewable generation and phasing out nuclear power. The government has begun to shut down the country’s coal-fired power plants that are more than 30 years old. In the future, domestic fuel-fired power plants will be mostly gas-fired ones that are more expensive to operate but also produce cleaner electricity.
(The above article is an English translation of a Chinese article written by Daisy Chuang. The credit of the top image goes to CGP Grey via Flickr and falls under the license of CC BY-SA 2.0.)