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[Editorial] Unrealistic plan

Proposed increase in renewable sources’ share of energy mix seems out of reach

The third energy master plan drafted by the government sets unrealistic goals, which could severely undermine the stability and efficiency of the electricity supply here.

It seems tailored to be in accord with President Moon Jae-in’s election pledge to phase out nuclear power generation and replace it with renewable sources. The draft plan calls for expanding renewables’ portion of Korea’s electricity mix, which is now at around 7 percent, to 30 to 35 percent by 2040. The target range marked a sharp rise from the goal to increase the share to 11 percent by 2035 under the previous plan.

The energy master plan is renewed every five years with goals set for the next 20 years.

The draft plan unveiled last week does not suggest the portion of nuclear power generation, just noting the government will build no more nuclear reactors and will not extend the operating life of existing ones. Under the previous scheme, nuclear energy was set to comprise 29 percent of the country’s power generation by 2035, up from the 23.4 percent last year.

As experts indicate, the proposed expansion of renewable energy appears no more than an unrealistic hope.

What is cited by government officials as grounds for the proposed increase is an estimate by the International Energy Agency that renewable sources will account for 40 percent of global power generation by 2040.

It should be noted that the projection by the IEA is down to 24 percent when excluding hydropower generation, which is nearly negligible in Korea’s energy mix.

Given the country’s natural and climate conditions, it is simply beyond reach to increase the portion of renewables to 35 percent mainly by installing more solar panels and wind turbines.

Another unrealistic goal set by the draft plan is to curb the country’s energy consumption in 2040 at the 2017 level, with industrial energy use planned to be cut by 20 percent over the cited period.

But the government should expect industrial energy use in Korea to continue to increase in keeping with the development of new industries such as electric cars, artificial intelligence and big data marketing.

Climate change will also result in increasing electricity use by households and workplaces on things like air conditioning and heating.

It appears that the goal of curbing energy use has been set mainly to cover a possible gap between power supply and demand.

The draft plan calls for a drastic reduction in coal-fired power generation, which comprises about 41 percent of the country’s energy portfolio, to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and ease air pollution caused by fine dust.

An increase in electricity generation by renewable sources and liquefied natural gas would be insufficient to offset a fall in nuclear and coal-fired power generation. Solar and wind power, which is affected by weather conditions, can hardly be reliable energy sources.

Moreover, increasing power supplied by expensive energy from renewables and liquefied natural gas to replace relatively cheap nuclear and coal-fired power generation would strengthen upward pressure on the cost of electricity.

The draft plan makes no mention as to how much electricity costs are estimated to increase as a result of proposed changes in the energy mix.

There is the possibility that expensive and unstable energy supply will push not only traditional manufacturers but also high tech companies to move abroad.

The Moon administration’s preoccupation with ending nuclear power generation has turned the draft energy master plan, which should take into account a broad range of aspects, into a mere attempt to justify the excessive portion of renewables.

At a public hearing last week where the draft plan was disclosed, experts called for overhauling it to restore the role of nuclear energy, which they noted would be essential to ensure stable energy supply and effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fine dust.

Such a demand, however, is likely to fall on deaf ears, given the Moon administration’s dismissal of opinion polls that have shown more than 70 percent of Koreans opposing its push to discard nuclear power generation.

Earlier this month, it announced a plan to foster the reactor decommissioning industry as a follow-up to the nuclear phase-out policy. As critics note sarcastically, this can be compared to building parking lots on the sites of shuttered car factories.

There is a likelihood that the unreasonable energy policy will be redressed under the next administration. Until then, one might have to hope that the nuclear energy industry will not have been dealt such severe damage that it is hard to recover from it.

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