By Dr. Heo Eun-nyeong (majored in environment and resource economics) Associate Professor at Department of Energy System Engineering, Seoul National University
As the sweltering heat started in May, the government is expressing concerns over shortage in supply of electric power and announced measures earlier than last year. In light of the fact that the power was blacked out in September two years ago when the hot summer was almost over, the government seems to make preparations in advance, but we believe that the government is taking proactive measures because it is evident that power is expected to show too much shortage in this summer.
New power plants, which were abruptly begun to construct after the blackout two years ago, require 2 more years before they start commercial operation. Under the situation, several nuclear power reactors are unable to be operated for more than 6 months due to replacement of faulty components. So, the country has no other choice but to save power in this and next summer as much as possible, making us feel depression and sigh.
Up until 10 years ago, electric power supply systems in Korea won international awards for world’s top efficiency. And it was recognized as a country that adopted the most advanced technologies. Thanks to such power supply systems, the people in Korea have rarely experienced blackouts for more than two decades since early 1990s. As they suddenly faced serious power shortage situation after experiencing neither power shortage nor power failure for such a long period of time, the people must feel extremely uneasy.
It is hard to believe what resulted in such a situation when there was no natural disaster, such as earthquake and tidal wave, despite operating all available generators. And the government has to implement strong power saving and demand control policies, such as campaign of turning off one lamp at offices and homes, reserving one lamp at homes, and using stairs instead of elevators, as well as crackdown on stores not to operate air conditioners with doors open. Since principles that had been stressed in implementing energy policies by the government, such as efficiency in power supply and in using government budget will be entirely disregarded, we have to spend long time again in reviving collapsed policy principles even after the problem of shortage in power supply is eased.
The basic reason why power shows shortage in supply is very simple. While demand for power increased thanks to electric charges lower than prime costs for many years, the government did not construct sufficient power plants. We often find on facilities installed by Korea Power Corporation (KEPCO) a phrase reading ‘Electric power is generated in Korea but energy is imported’. Major base materials for electric power, such as coal, uranium and natural gas, are imported. But power companies are providing electric power to the people for lower prices than prime costs.
Specialists point out that shortage in power supply today is caused by combination of such low energy prices and various structural problems, such as loophole in restructuring of power industry implemented after the foreign exchange crisis in 1997, rising trend of international energy prices that continues in the 21st century, NIMBY phenomenon of the people, and lack of government’s new investment in energy area.
Most specialists also suggest to raise electric charges and adopt the electric charge-prime cost linkage system earlier than other measures. This is really a natural suggestion. The government should prevent increase in consumption of electric power by raising electric charges and announcing the electric charge-prime cost linkage system. Problems lie both in the government that supplies energy for prices lower than prime costs while importing energy sources, and the people who wastefully consume power owing to low electric charges. But the fundamental problem lies in the government as it maintains such pricing structure, not in the people who make such a choice.
And specialists suggest to raise electric charges in public sector by over twice. Though total consumption of power in the public sector represents a small proportion, high electric charges will immediately curb construction of large public buildings that are very inefficient in energy. And it will encourage public organizations to voluntarily save energy without affecting life of the people. Instead of forcibly controlling office temperature at such buildings, this measure may help public organizations effectively reduce energy consumption at their buildings by installing suitable heating and cooling facilities based on their autonomous analysis. And that will be an aggressive policy that can devise sustainable means of supplying power rather than a defensive policy.
Attempting to ease shortage in supply of power by taking measures, such as reshuffling ministers or vice ministers of related ministries, announcement of apology statement to the people, and dismissal of responsible executives at power companies, is a means to be taken by under developed countries, and they are not helpful for solving problems at all. It will be a shortcut to spending cool summer to ask for people’s understanding by frankly explaining structural problems and persuade them to take part in overcoming the difficult situation.