South Korea continues to invest in renewable energy such as solar, wind, and LNG power plants in order the fill the void that will result from the nation’s interest in lowering the country’s reliance on nuclear power.
Unfortunately, experts remain unoptimistic at the prospect due to South Korea’s domestic renewable energy industry being at a tepid level. As such, South Korea is failing to keep up with the rapid phasing-out of the nuclear energy industry. They warned that this may trigger an “energy vacancy” in the near future.
To complement the energy reduction that is being brought about by the government’s Energy Master Plan, South Korea intends to increase the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources to as much as 35 percent of the total by 2040.
In line with this policy, the Moon administration has halted the construction of four new nuclear power plants and shut down the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor before the end of its lifespan in 2018. In 2017, the Shin Hanul-3 and 4 plants also halted construction.
Given the 60-year lifespan of nuclear reactors and the final operation period of the last nuclear plant in Korea, the government say Korea will be free of nuclear power plants by 2079, claiming there is enough time for the country to “make the transition toward renewable energies.”
Experts on the other hand, are issuing warnings that criticise this optimistic outlook. In the first half of 2019 alone, nuclear power accounted for up to 28.8percent of Korea’s total power generation.
“The goal of 2079 means that the country has to rely on nuclear energy for the next 60 years,” said Lee Duck-hwan, a professor at Sogang University. “However, the domestic nuclear industry is collapsing much faster than initial expectations, casting doubts on whether the country can hold it for the next 60 years.”
Casting just as much fear is the relatively slow rate of growth for the nation’s domestic renewable energy industry.
OCI, which produces polysilicon for solar cells, recently decided to stop producing the material, and its fellow Hanwha Solution also recently stated that it will abandon solar-grade polysilicon production by the end of 2020. This leaves South Korea with no company producing the material domestically, dealing a savage blow to the government’s initiative to grow the solar power industry.
According to the Korea Energy Agency, the situation is similar for wind power. The share of Korean wind power companies in the domestic wind power generation equipment business accounted for 100 percent in 2014. However, the exponential growth of competing Dutch products has led to a free-fall drop in domestic wind power shares to 30 percent in September 2018.
With big players in both the renewable power and nuclear power industries withdrawing, Korea will have to be creative and swift in order to overcome the challenges presented by this daunting task.