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[#WeFACE] Energy transition essential for exports: RE100 head

Sam Kimmins (The Climate Group)
Sam Kimmins (The Climate Group)

The Korea Herald is publishing a series of interviews with the lineup of speakers who will discuss solutions to the climate crisis at the H.eco Forum, which is scheduled to be held virtually on June 10 under the theme “We Face the Climate Clock.” – Ed.

It was only last December when a South Korean company joined the global RE100 campaign -- a pledge to use 100 percent renewable power. The list is growing, but probably not fast enough for the country’s export-driven economy to maintain its competitive edge.

Now is the time for more Korean companies to join RE100 and send a “strong signal” to the government that there is corporate demand for renewable energy, said Sam Kimmins, head of the Climate Group’s RE100 campaign, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“A strong business voice is needed to incentivize the policy changes required to make cheap, clean energy accessible and eventually help drive down costs for the wider public too,” he said. Kimmins, who has 20 years of experience leading sustainability projects in various sectors, will be a speaker at the H.eco Forum scheduled for June 10 in Seoul.

RE100 is a global initiative that brings together more than 310 companies -- including major players like Apple and Google -- who have committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity. Its members represent a combined electricity demand of more than 320 TWh per year, which is about two-thirds Korea’s electricity demand. Fifty-three members have already achieved their goal of transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, according to RE100.

Last year, six units of SK Group, the country’s third-largest conglomerate, joined RE100, becoming the first Korean company to do so. Since then, Amorepacific, LG Energy Solutions and K-water have followed suit.

“With the support of international RE100 companies operating in South Korea, they are sending a strong message, giving the South Korean government confidence that the business community will step up once progress has been made on ensuring the appropriate policies on renewable energy are in place,” he said.

For RE100 members seeking to power their operations with 100 percent clean energy, Korea remains one of the most challenging markets because it lacks renewable sourcing options and its regulatory barriers make it difficult to buy and procure renewables at scale, Kimmins pointed out.

“The South Korean market for renewables is still in its infancy and so it can seem challenging for companies to make a commitment to 100 percent renewables without a clear pathway,” he said.

“If this continues in the long term, it will place South Korean businesses at a competitive disadvantage and unable to benefit from the investment and job creation associated with the corporate renewable electricity movement,” he added.

Korea’s reliance on trade stood at 63.5 percent as of 2019, according to Statistics Korea, which was higher than other advanced countries such as the US and Japan. This makes Asia’s fourth-largest economy sensitive to demands of RE100 members -- many of whom are asking their suppliers to switch to renewables.

Korea has a tough road ahead to achieve its goal of going carbon free by 2050, given that the country is the world’s seventh-biggest carbon dioxide emitter and is heavily reliant on coal-fired power. Renewables delivered only 6.5 percent of its electricity as of 2019.

Still, positive steps are being taken in Korea, Kimmins noted, referring to the country’s revision to the Electric Utility Act last year that created a Power Purchase Agreement mechanism and a green tariff program with the Korea Electric Power Corp. He also welcomed the government’s decision to invest in a 6 GW floating wind farm off Ulsan as well as its moratorium on overseas coal-fired power projects.

But the government now needs to act fast to accelerate the phase out of domestic coal use too, he added.

“Climate action is now recognized as making business sense as well as environmental sense,” Kimmins said. “We are on the right track -- but we need to move a lot faster. The decade to 2030 will be critical in determining whether we win the climate fight or lock-in dangerous climate change.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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