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Big companies join power-saving drive

Corporations seek consulting services to conserve energy, cut costs


These days, SK Group’s headquarters in downtown Seoul starts making ice at 11 p.m. The ice produced overnight cools the building the next day.

The “thermal energy storage” system helps the group reduce its peak electricity costs for air-conditioning by transferring the load to off-peak hours.
An ice-based thermal energy storage system is shown at SK Group’s headquarters in central Seoul. (SK Group)
An ice-based thermal energy storage system is shown at SK Group’s headquarters in central Seoul. (SK Group)

The nascent technology is among the measures adopted by large businesses to curb electricity consumption as a recent upsurge in demand threatens the nation’s power supply and stokes outage fears.

A heat wave and brisk economic activity sent the maximum power demand to 71.30 million kilowatts on July 19, breaching 69.89 million kilowatts last summer.

Bracing for even higher demand in August, Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung last week urged firms and households to keep the room temperature at 26 degrees Celsius or higher and minimize the use of air conditioners and fans.

On Tuesday, the government announced a 6 percent hike in electricity charges for industrial use and 2 percent for homes starting August, prompting some of the country’s biggest consumers including SK, POSCO and Hyundai Heavy to devise measures to cope with their soon-to-rise utility bills.

SK Telecom’s “smart lighting system” senses employees’ movements to turn lights off when everyone leaves the building.

Adopted about a year ago, the system cuts the firm’s energy usage in lighting by 20 percent on average per month, officials said. The economic effects are estimated at 170 million won a year.

The country’s top telecom operator also runs a “free cooling” system, which uses low outside air temperatures to keep Internet data centers cool. SK said it allows savings of 600 million won annually.

“We embrace a multitude of campaigns group-wide,” an SK official said. “Things like turning sockets off and wearing short-sleeve shirts or no tie help avoid wasting energy in our daily routine.”

POSCO supplies more than 70 percent of its electricity needs from its own generators by using gases emitted during steelmaking operations.

In efforts to slash costs further, the world’s fourth-largest steel manufacturer began reducing the use of lighting and office devices such as printers and copy machines early this year.

Between January and June, the new policy saved 124 million won collectively from 11 model factories, a POSCO official said. The company later expanded it to 38 plants and 45 buildings, lowering total electricity use by 10 percent in May and 8 percent in June compared to April.

POSCO has also earned recognition for its push for high-efficient and eco-friendly management with technology called FINEX.

Responsible for about 10 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, it vowed to cut the ratio by 9 percent until 2020 from 2007-09 average levels.

“POSCO secured profitability to some degree but we should make more efforts in environment and social responsibility,” chief executive Chung Joon-yang said last year.

Hyundai Heavy, the world’s top shipbuilder, sends workers text messages at peak hours, saying, “Emergency: please turn off air conditioners for 15 minutes.”
A text message asking for a shutoff of air conditioners on a Hyundai Heavy employee’s mobile phone.  (Hyundai Heavy)
A text message asking for a shutoff of air conditioners on a Hyundai Heavy employee’s mobile phone.  (Hyundai Heavy)

Launched in 2009, its “peak electricity system” adjusts power levels of equipment in the shipyard or requests staff assistance in the office via texts when demand reaches the highest point.

With the system, the shipbuilder said it saves nearly 1.3 billion won a year from its 78 billion won annual electricity bills.

“It has helped a lot in preventing energy loss,” a Hyundai official said. “It’s very crucial in our business as electricity takes up the largest chunk in the energy budget.”

Other companies such as LG Electronics, GS Group, Kumho Asiana Group and are also striving to keep utility bills low. They run escalators less often, turn off lights at lunchtime, and have reduced the number of lamps or switched to high-efficient bulbs or light-emitting diodes.

“This is not something we have to do in summer but always,” a GS official said.

“Electricity is directly linked with the company’s competitiveness given its high costs.”

An emerging trend among corporations is using energy consulting services, which involve analyzing energy flows such as heating and air conditioning in commercial buildings and suggesting energy-saving solutions.

LG Electronics and GS Caltex respectively said they plan to launch an energy consulting enterprise.

The government has been shoring up the fledgling sector as it made 470 companies subject to mandatory energy-saving and emission cuts regulations last year.

In January, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy unveiled a plan to invest more than 600 billion won this year in energy-saving companies.

In addition, the ministry said in May it will nurture the energy storage system industry by injecting 500 billion won into research and development by 2020, adding it targets 30 percent in the global market.

“Though many firms including SK, Samsung SDI and LG Chem adopted the system, the industry is on the verge,” a ministry official said. “It has boundless potential given its effectiveness in managing electricity demand. Supply will be much smoother in three or four years.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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