Loopholes in government policies led to weakening renewable energy grounds in South Korea.

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By Rubina Obaid


Despite renewable energy policies are present in almost all the countries around the globe, which is giving rise to an effective mix of support policies. As the policies of renewable technologies vary greatly in scope of comprehensiveness and remain far from ambition level to meet international climate goals. Government data of South Korea showed that considerable portion of renewable energy  is been generated through controversial material which emits more green houses gases than coal. That is also raising concerns over the policies implemented by South Korean president to increase renewable sources to substantially reduce green house gas emissions and align with the climate pledge of Paris agreement long term goals.

The increased target for renewable is a positive indication that South Korean government is willing to take major steps to overcome the challenges of climate change. Whereas, according to the latest data released by Korean Energy Agency, renewable energy sources or compressed organic matter generated 6,620,283 megawatt hours of electricity in 2018 which is eighty times more than 2012. It has been accounted that 12.5% of total electricity is generated by renewable energy sources in the year 2018. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change under UN, biomass wood pellets which resemble corks and bio-SRF (Solid refuse fuel) which are made up of wood wastes create 112000 Kilogram of carbon dioxide per terajoule, one terajoule is equals to 1 billion joules. However in comparison to that coking coal emits 94,600 Kilograms of carbon dioxide per terajoule and is considered as renewable energy source which is produced through plants and animal material. 

A senior researcher from Korean environmental civic  group Solutions for Our Climate Kim Soo-Jin said that “Wood has less concentrated energy than fossil fuels, so a huge volume has to be burned to generate energy”. Moreover the managing director of the group Kim Joo-Jin also a former attorney at Kin & Chang added that the tree which are cut down to obtain biomass will take 70 to 80 years to counterbalance the environmental effect as trees need that much of time to regrow. Electricity providers are equipped to generate electricity of 500 MW or more through renewable energy sources and were given the mandatory quota from the Ministry of Trade. The quota currently stands on 7 percent for this year and will grow up to 10% in the next three years.

Electricity providers are urged to move to biomass due to its cost effectiveness. According to Seo Dae-ho from Korean Western Power, Initial investment of biomass costs very little because it can be mixed with coal and using existing facilities in coal fired power plants whilst the ratio of biomass is about 3 to 5 percent. On contrary it costs around $1.25 million to install a solar power generation facility of 1MW. The government has implemented the policy of applying different weighted value on renewable energy for incentivizing balanced growth. For instance if solar power generates 1MWh through energy storage systems, REC worth 5 MWh is granted and in contrast when biomass mixed with coal generates 1 MWh, no REC is given. Solar power generated 75,537 MWH in the year 2012 and the figure rose to 5,262,988 MWH in 2017 and then it took a bigger stride of 11,391,110 in 2019. According to Korea Power Exchange the price which sustained to 130,000 won in 2017 abruptly plunged to  35,600 won as on 10th of March. Therefore in the recent meeting with Korea Solar Energy Development Association expressed his concerns about being unable to recover investments due to oversupply that lead to cut REC price significantly. Lower REC price is a positive indicator whereas due to the loopholes in government policies, the use of biomass remained rampant even though the push to lower down the dependence on biomass still prevails.


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