[Interview] Korea shouldn’t forget renewables in carbon-free energy initiative, says expert

Posted on : 2023-11-01 16:53 KST Modified on : 2023-11-01 16:53 KST
The Hankyoreh spoke with Sam Kimmins, the director of energy at the Climate Group, about recent energy policies launched by the Korean government
Sam Kimmins, the director of energy at the Climate Group, speaks to the Hankyoreh over Zoom.
Sam Kimmins, the director of energy at the Climate Group, speaks to the Hankyoreh over Zoom.

“The choice to focus on nuclear in their carbon-free plans is of course a sovereign decision for the Korean government. But in defining their roadmap to 2023, the government should not ignore the fact that renewable electricity can be rolled out faster than any other carbon-free energy source — and will be essential in bridging the 10-to-14-year gap while nuclear facilities are planned and built.”

Sam Kimmins, the director of energy at the Climate Group, had the above to say about South Korea’s newly launched “Carbon-Free Alliance” and plans for a carbon-free energy initiative that revolves around nuclear energy. Seoul’s carbon-free energy initiative excludes the “every hour of every day, everywhere” matching of electricity consumption with carbon-free electricity sources at the heart of the UN’s “24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact” due to technical difficulties.

As an international nonprofit with expertise in climate change and energy, the Climate Group is spearheading the RE100 initiative that brings together businesses committed to using 100% renewable electricity.

In a written interview with the Hankyoreh on Oct. 31, Kimmins called it “encouraging to see the government taking action to move towards an energy system free of fossil fuels” in regard to Korea’s launch of the carbon-free alliance. At the same time, the director says that “renewables continue to be at the centre of the solution” to the transition to carbon neutrality.

Naming countries using carbon-free energy like the US, France and Japan, Korea has hinted at plans to grow its alliance. To this, Kimmins says, “In reaching net-zero targets it’s important to recognise the role that different options and initiatives play in the transition.”

The International Energy Agency estimates that 90% of new electricity capacity added between 2022 and 2027 will be renewables, according to Kimmins.

“Currently, Korea is something of an outlier, as RE100 members can only secure 2% of their electricity demand from renewables in the Korean market. This is well behind even China (32%) and Singapore (26%) or Japan (15%),” he wrote. “In mature markets like the US and France, it is much easier for companies to access renewables than in Korea. Many companies in these markets have already reached their 100% renewable electricity targets and are looking for even more ambitious steps. That’s where the evolution of 24/7 matching of supply and demand comes in, and the next step in corporate commitment to renewables and decarbonisation.”

If 24-7 carbon-free energy is the expanded version of RE100, then a carbon-free energy initiative that lacks real-time matching ends up being a laxer version of the RE100. Saying that the RE100 initiative “works alongside existing, well-respected international carbon-free electricity initiatives, including the UN 24/7 Carbon-Free Compact,” Kimmins said his organization is “interested to learn more about the government’s carbon-free initiative and what it plans to do in practice, as well as how it’s intended to work alongside well-established, international carbon-free electricity initiatives.”

Declining to give a direct response to the question of whether Korea’s carbon-free energy initiative could replace the RE100 initiative, Kimmins instead said, “The reality is that international markets and businesses are demanding 100% renewable electricity across their operations and supply chains.”

“As the government develops its plans to achieve carbon-free grids, it should continue to consider the significant role that renewables will need to play in Korea’s export economy,” the director went on.

Kimmins furthermore expressed disappointment in the current administration’s lowering of renewables’ share in the 2030 energy mix — a move made on the grounds of being “realistic.” Compared to its predecessor’s nationally determined contribution goal for 2030 set for the 10th master plan for the country’s energy supply, the share of renewables has been slashed from 30.2% to 21.6%, while fossil fuels (coal and LNG) were kept nearly level at 42.6% compared to 41.3%.

“It was disappointing that the increased share of nuclear [energy] in Korea’s revised energy plan was at the expense of renewables, rather than growing the overall carbon-free mix at the expense of fossil fuels,” said Kimmins of this revision. “We hope to see this remedied over time.”

By Ki Min-do, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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