Title: The Future of Energy and Korea’s Path that Lies Ahead
Hwang, Jooho (the President of Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER))
I. Energy and Our Life
Coal, oil, and LNG are three major energy sources. With these resources we supply electricity for industries and houses and even make various products. Korea currently imports 97% of its energy resources, costing thirteen billion dollars in total. This figure almost equals the combined export sales of Korean automobiles, ships, and semiconductors. It can be said that Korea is using the money earned with their own sweat to manufacture products to buy energy resources. One example of the role energy plays in our lives is that 1.2 liters of oil are used to catch a single squid. A squid-catching ship needs about 80 lights to attract fish and they consume that much electricity generated by the ship’s onboard generator.
II. The Change in Global Energy Environment
In 2004, the international oil price was 40 dollars a barrel and is now about 120 dollars. Many international conflicts in the past such as the Pearl Harbor attack, the Gulf War, and the 9/11 attack had their root causes in obtaining energy resources. Even now the territorial dispute between Korea and Japan as well as China's actions around the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea are not so much political as economic. Each country wants to secure their rights to any part of land or sea which bears potential energy resources.
In order to slow down global warming, several major international conferences have been held, but trying to improve environmental conditions can hinder economic and industrial developments because it leads to reducing fossil fuel and raw material usage. That's why no practical international treaties have been made since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the Durban COP17 Climate Change Summit has decided to delay making and practicing post-Kyoto protocols until 2030.
Countries are getting more cautious of nuclear power plants and trying to develop better renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency. Recently, the US started developing shale gas which can satisfy the nation's energy needs for 100 years. By using this new gas, the US has become an energy self-sufficient country. When the environmentally friendly and inexpensive shale gas is widely used in the US, its role as world police which it has kept for years by intervening in Middle East issues could become significantly different.
III. The Current Energy Situations in Korea
The amount of methane hydrate which is buried in Korea’s East Sea is sizeable but the depth is only 10 cm and it is spread across a wide region, so it has not been economically feasible to capitalize on this in recent years. The energy consumption in most OECD countries has declined, but in Korea it has been steadily increasing, not only in industrial and domestic use but also in agricultural and fishing areas. The energy prices in Korea are a half or a third of those in most advanced countries and energy efficiency is about half that in Japan.
Korea has four nuclear power plants, but the capacity for nuclear waste disposal has reached 80% so it is urgent that we find other disposal grounds. 915 blackouts occurred because the reserve power of the plants has decreased from 15.7% in 2008 to 4.8% in 2010, with the safe reserve rate being 15%. We can expect the reserve to be normalized again when the four nuclear power plants are completed in 2013. The Korean government is leading the drive for fostering renewable energies such as solar, wind, bio, and geothermal energy as well.
IV. Issues Related to Energy and the Measures Korea will Take
Korea needs to improve its energy supply-and-demand policies and lessen dependency on imported energy. Korea should also form alliances with other countries by participating in the pan-Asian “supergrid” suggested by Masayoshi Son or by getting Russian natural gas through pipelines installed across the continent.
Some people call nuclear energy bad and renewable energy good, but that’s not right since each energy has its own merits and demerits. Nuclear energy is useful since it generates a huge amount of energy at low cost, but we have to be really careful using it and disposing of its wastes since its potential dangers are huge. A demerit of renewable energy is its tremendous cost when developing and installing the facilities. We need to decrease the cost through technological development and make a composite framework for using various kinds of renewable energies depending on specific conditions. Interdisciplinary participation and assistance are desperately needed to make the best energy mix plan which takes into account the properties and expenses of each energy source.