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What is green energy and why is it important?

It refers to sources of energy that do not pollute the environment.

Nov 18,2008
Lowering carbon levels and promoting green consumption have become major priorities around the world.

This is because environmental disaster can only be stopped by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, believed to be the main cause of global warming.

And in the drive for a low carbon economy, many governments and companies have targeted the green energy industry as an engine for future growth.

At the 10th international conference of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which took place in Changwon, South Gyeongsang earlier this month, there was a Carbon Offset Fund booth.

About 100 people a day visited the booth and donated money. The donations will go toward initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But what is green energy and why is it important?

Green energy refers to sources of energy which do not emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Alternative power from solar, wind and hydrogen fuel cells are examples of green energy.

The Korean government announced its green energy industry development plan in September. Under the program, the administration will invest 3 trillion won ($2.2 billion) over the next five years to develop source technology for green energy.

The green energy industry is seen as promising because of climate change and the energy crisis.

According to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which discussed the effects of climate change and global warning on the world economy, the global economic loss will reach 5 to 20 percent of world gross domestic product by 2100 if the climate issue is not resolved.

The impact will be as devastating as the Great Depression of the 1930s, the report warned.

The United States has been reluctant to commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but it recently engaged in more active discussions with developing nations about what will happen after 2013.

This date is significant. It’s when obligations imposed on countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions expire.

International energy prices have also skyrocketed recently, prompting nations to pay more attention to renewable energies.

The U.S.-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates forecasts that investment in the green energy industry will amount to $7 trillion in 2030, adding that it has a growth potential as explosive as the revolutionary period of information technology.

Kang Hee-chan, a senior researcher with the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said, “Green competition is the only way to survive in the global market.”

There will be more people who “downshift” their lives in the era of green energy, said Kim Jong-dall, economics professor at Kyungpook National University.

“They will escape from the quicker way of life and enjoy a slower pace instead,” Kim said.

More people will use bicycles instead of cars, he added, noting that cycling is a good example of the low-carbon lifestyle.

And change is already taking place.

The Ministry of Environment introduced a greenhouse gas emissions labeling system in July for a pilot run in order to encourage consumption of low-carbon products.

The system took the idea from carbon footprinting, which notes the amount of greenhouse gas emitted during the manufacturing of a product.

The Jeonju city government also launched a carbon point system in October, rewarding households that consumed less electricity with points that can be exchanged into gift certificates.

But developing an environmentally friendly green energy industry is not easy.

Construction for the wind power generation complex in Milyang, South Gyeongsang was scheduled to start at the end of this year, but was postponed.

The South Gyeongsang provincial government and the Milyang city government argued that wind power generation is an environmentally friendly project which can replace thermal power generation, a main source of carbon dioxide emissions.

However, the Ulsan city government and an environmental group, Ulsan Forest of Life, opposed the construction.

They said wind generation would destroy the region’s forests, which help to eliminate greenhouse gases. The effect of greenhouse gas emission reduction through wind power generation cannot be compared to what the forest does for the environment, they argued.

With this confrontation seemingly at an impasse, the project has currently stalled.

Is it possible to pursue environmental protection and green growth at the same time?

“Green growth is a wider concept of sustainable growth which says the environment and growth must be harmonized,” said Kang.

“By maximizing market functions, we can reduce greenhouse gases and increase environmental protection while achieving economic growth at the same time.”

Others, however, are not so certain.

“The low-carbon green growth policy is more focused on economic growth than environmental protection,” said Professor Kim.

“It is only packaged nicely with the term ‘green,’ and environmental protection will likely be forgotten.”

In any case, Korea faces many challenges ahead.

Korea’s green energy industry is valued at about $1.8 billion, accounting for only 0.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

As of 2007, Korea’s share of the global market was only 1.4 percent.

Korea is also highly dependent on technology imports. About 75 percent of solar energy generation technology is imported while about 99.6 percent of wind power generation technology is purchased from other countries.

“Our landscape is not conducive to the building of solar and wind power generation facilities,” said Kang Yun-yeong, a researcher at the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

“That is why we must heighten our technological competitiveness and focus on exporting our source technologies.”



By Park Gil-ja JoongAng Ilbo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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