The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Distorted energy prices

By 류근하

Published : Jan. 13, 2011 - 17:36

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The unusually long and severe cold spell is driving up electricity consumption. According to the government, a surge in power demand for heating boosted peak power consumption to 71.84 million kilowatts at noon Tuesday, sending power reserves falling to a dangerously low level of 4.07 million kilowatts, or 5.7 percent of the nation’s maximum power generation capacity of 75.91 million kilowatts. It was the third time this winter that a new record was set on power consumption.

When power reserves fall below 4 million kilowatts, the quality of the electricity supply could deteriorate due to difficulties in frequency and voltage control. As a result, industrial plants that are sensitive to power quality can be adversely affected.

As the cold spell is likely to be prolonged, peak power demands could further rise, pulling power reserves below the emergency level of 4 million kilowatts. This prospect has prompted the government to call on the public to reduce electricity consumption, especially during the peak hours ― from 10 a.m. to noon and between 4 to 6 p.m.

According to the government, heating accounts for 24 percent of power consumption. As such, if people cut back on heating, it can achieve significant electricity savings and help raise power reserves to safer levels. Therefore, we all need to set the thermostat low during peak hours and make efforts to conserve power by following power saving tips.

At the same time, we urge the government to correct the distortions in energy prices. Power consumption for heating has surged in recent years because electricity is cheaper than other energy sources. Compared with 2004, the prices of city gas and kerosene rose 45 percent, while the power rate gained 13 percent. As a result, power consumption jumped 49 percent during this period, while city gas consumption increased 28 percent and kerosene consumption dropped 55 percent.

To curb growth in power consumption, the government needs to set the power rate at a proper level that reflects generation costs. It also needs to stop supplying electricity to companies at a price lower than that for households.