[OUTLOOK]A perfectly feasible projectThe collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had the unhappy result of ending its aid to North Korea, as well as its compensation trade. Its failure to provide the materials North Korea needed for power generation resulted in an extreme aggravation of power shortages in North Korea.
As soon as I was appointed president of the Korea Electric Power Corporation in 1998, I appointed talented employees to a North Korea Electric Power Economic Team, which drew up and reviewed efficient ways to send electricity to North Korea.
My belief was that although rice and fertilizer were badly needed in the North, sending electricity was the most urgent requirement of all, and that it could be used to promote peaceful coexistence between North and South Korea. In other words, I believed the electricity we sent to North Korea would become a basic element in reviving the North Korean economy and saving the livelihood of that nation.
In this sense, the government’s policy to send our surplus power to North Korea and alleviate the extreme electricity shortage there is an appropriate one.
This policy also goes hand in hand with the government’s decision to pursue economic cooperation with the North in a new way, by combining resources, capital, technology and so on, to achieve balanced development of the national economy.
As for the specifics of transmitting power to North Korea, the most economical and efficient way would be to install inverters at the alternating current power lines of 345 kilovolts at the Yangju Substation to invert the transmitted electricity to direct current. North Korea would receive this direct current and convert it to alternating current, say, through converters at a plant in southern Pyongyang, and distribute the electricity through its main transmission network of 220 kilovolts.
Above all, direct current transmission involves much lower transmission loss than alternating current transmission when electricity is sent over 200 kilometers. And installing conversion facilities from alternating-to-direct-to-alternating current can serve as automatic devices to prevent accidents on one side from spreading to the other side.
In North America, transmission of power between Canada and New York, and between Canada and Boston is carried out in this manner. In 1965, accidents in Canada broke down all power transmission and distribution networks in New York; since then, all of such accidents have been prevented for the past 40 years by the installation of inverters and converters.
To put it more technically, two circuits of 345 kilovolts are required to transmit 2 million kilowatts of electricity over 200 kilometers. Converters and inverters will completely prevent a chain reaction of power outages in North and South Korea. Sending the electricity to North Korea will involve spending about 1 trillion to 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) to build transmission and safety facilities, including back-to-back converters; the annual power generation costs are estimated at 500 billion to 1 trillion won. However, the continuous transmission of 2 million kilowatts of electricity for 8,760 hours every year would actually be inefficient and uneconomical.
During the spring, the fall, holidays and late at night, electricity can be generated and transmitted inexpensively, because the demand is relatively low. But on summer days, the cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour goes up.
A stable power supply can be maintained when we secure 14 to 17 percent of our electric power facilities as a reserve capacity even during the peak time of year. But from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., demand for electric power is low. During the fall, demand is generally low, and even the peaks in demand are low by comparison, which means there is a surplus.
For perhaps 200 of the 8,760 hours in a year, we may be able to send only a million kilowatts of electricity to the North. During the remaining 8,000-plus hours, sending 2 million kilowatts of power will not be a problem, thanks to our substantial surplus capacity.
Not only does South Korea have the ability to send 2 million kilowatts of electricity, we can also install safety devices to prevent mishaps. I would like to emphasize once again that of all of the economic cooperation plans that the government intends to pursue, supplying electricity to North Korea is the most important, basic and efficient one.
* The writer is a professor of economics at the State University of New York and a former president of Korea Electric Power Corporation.
by Jang Young-sik