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South Korea Hastens Green Energy Transition by Planning to Have Renewables Comprise 40% of Its Energy Mix by 2034

published: 2020-05-22 18:30

South Korea’s ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party secured a comfortable majority in the parliamentary election that was held this April. The victory reflects not only the high approval of President Moon Jae-in’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic but also the sufficient popular support for the government to continue its pursuit of green energy initiatives. Yonhap News Agency and Bloomberg recently reported that the Moon administration is crafting a new bill that calls for a significant expansion of renewables in the domestic energy mix, specifically from the original target of 20% by 2030 to a bolder and accelerated target of 40% by 2034.

South Korea over the recent years has been making a gradual shift from coal and nuclear power to renewable energies as the main sources of domestic electricity generation. Besides the pressure to meet the carbon emission target, the urgent need to substantially reduce energy imports is another major factor behind this transition. Before the country earnestly began the push for renewables, imports met approximately 98% of the domestic energy demand. Furthermore, coal and nuclear power accounted for 40% and 30% of the domestic energy mix respectively.

The 8th Basic Plan for Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand (2017-2031), which was first announced by the Korean government at the end of 2017, aimed to raise the country’s cumulative installed capacity for various forms of renewable generation to at least 58.5GW by 2030. This figure would correspond to 20% of the domestic energy mix by the same target year. In contrast, the shares of liquefied natural gas (LNG), coal, and nuclear power in the domestic energy mix would shrink to 18.8%, 36%, and 23.9% respectively by the target year.

Following the recent election, the governing party now wants to achieve an even more ambitious target that will be included in the upcoming 9th Basic Plan for Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand (2020-2034). Under the draft version of the plan, renewables are set to make up 40% of the domestic energy mix by 2034. As for the target percentages of the conventional energy sources, LNG has been raised significantly to 31%, whereas coal and nuclear power have been further reduced to 15% and 10% respectively.

The 9th Basic Plan gives LNG a greater role in electricity production in order to fill the supply gap that would result from the planned closures of older coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Out of the 60 coal-fired power plants that are now operational in South Korea, 30 are slated for decommissioning by 2034. Among them, 24 will be modified to run on gas-fired generation units under the draft plan.

As for nuclear power, there are currently 24 working nuclear reactors in South Korea. According to the draft plan, the number of reactors will peak at 26 in 2024 and then lower to 17 in 2034. It remains to be seen whether the Moon administration will continue with the campaign to phase out nuclear power. One of the objectives in the 8th Basic Plan was to cut down the number of working reactors from 24 to 14 by 2038 and then completely give up nuclear power by 2060.

Yoo Seung-hoon, a professor at Seoul National University of Science & Technology and the leader of the working group of the government’s energy policies, expressed confidence that the 9th Plan will accelerate South Korea’s progress toward a sustainable future. Due to the successes of the current green energy initiatives, the share of renewables in the country’s electricity generation has grown from 5% to 15%.

(News source: TechNews. Photo credit: Pixabay.)

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