South Korea confirmed its new energy policy roadmap at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which centers on increasing the share of renewable energy sources, such as sunlight and wind, in the country’s electricity output to 30 to 35 percent by 2040, up from 7.6 percent last year. The draft proposed in April has been approved almost in its entirety.
The country’s energy guidelines, which are renewed every five years, are called the “energy constitution” as they set the direction of the energy policy for the next 20 years. Specific policies regarding electric power supply and energy sources are established in line with the proposal. Yet, the government’s roadmap is not much like a “roadmap” as it only presents numbers regarding renewable energy and does not provide any in relation to other sources including nuclear and coal power generation.
The government said that it plans to “gradually decrease the number of nuclear power plants by refraining from extending the service life of old plants and building new plants alike,” but it did not provide specific targets. This is in stark contrast to the first and second roadmaps of the past, which specified a goal to reduce the share of nuclear power to 41 percent and 29 percent, respectively. It is not understandable that the government put off presenting specific numbers until the announcement of the 9th Basic Plan of Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand at the end of the year. This is perhaps due to the government’s concern about a possible backlash against the Moon administration’s signature policy to exit nuclear energy.
Though it is true that countries around the world are racing to expand the use of renewable energy sources, there are many real-world constraints for South Korea, with its limited territory and the amount of sunshine, to boost the share of clean energy to over 30 percent. In particular, increased dependency on fossil-free energy would mean higher electricity bills. The government cited research institutes’ prediction that the power cost of renewable energy, currently three times that of nuclear energy, will get lower by the late 2020s, but the price decline is likely to be more gradual in South Korea due to its less favorable conditions. Therefore, the government should be cautious in raising the share of renewable energy based on excessively optimistic prospects because doing so can undermine the stability of electricity supply.
The government said that it aims to shift toward a “clean and safe energy mix.” However, the energy roadmap should be devised by taking into account energy security, environmental elements, economic efficiency, and industrial competitiveness. The government should not be overly obsessed with its objective of building a nuclear-free country, but come up with a reasonable energy policy that can be accepted by the Korean people.