[Viewpoint]The future is greenFollowing President Lee Myung-bak’s naming “low-carbon green growth” the paradigm for the future, the government finalized its first national energy plan a few days ago. Under this road map, to be used until 2030, the government said it will reduce the ratio of reliance on fossil fuels in total energy consumption from 83 percent to 61 percent and increase the use of renewable energy from 2.4 percent to 11 percent.
The government also proposed making nuclear electricity production 59 percent of the nation’s power generation capacity, up from the current 36 percent. When Lee first announced the slogan “low-carbon green growth,” many responded cynically, calling it a tactic to improve his image during a governance crisis. However, the plan announced recently shows that the president has a feasible blueprint.
Whatever it is called, the direction in which the nation is moving in terms of energy consumption is timely. Global warming caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions has been a concern for a long time, but this year, it emerged as an important global issue. The glaciers in the Arctic Ocean have gone from covering 7.5 million square kilometers to 4.1 million square kilometers over the past two decades, meaning that glaciers about the size of the Korean Peninsula have disappeared every year during that time. With the disappearance taking place at increasing speeds, a maritime route has opened up that links Asia and northern Europe.
In response to this situation, the United States, which has been indifferent to the issue until now, and China and India, which have reacted as if they were advanced nations, have reached a consensus that they must do something.
Furthermore, fossil fuel prices, including that of petroleum, skyrocketed this year, and securing a variety of energy sources at reasonable prices has become an important factor for quality of life and a nation’s competitiveness. Until now, nuclear power generation has been held in check for political reasons rather than actual risk, but that view has changed. Due to the expense, the use of renewable energy has been restrained, but we have reached the point where we have to find ways to make it economically efficient.
Most importantly, the entire world, not just Koreans, feel that the near-absolute dependency on a finite supply of fossil fuel is simply too dangerous. The skyrocketing price of energy provides an opportunity for us to think about such issues, to reduce energy consumption and to calculate the individual and social costs of such an action. The experiences will serve as an important motivation to develop and supply alternate energy, a project which will require enormous funding in the future.
And yet, willpower is not all that is needed to achieve a goal, particularly in a situation that will come at tremendous expense. Germany, the world’s most competitive nation in the renewable energy industry, established the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG) in 1991 and guaranteed that it would prioritize the purchase of energy generated from renewable sources, regardless of its production cost. The law also guarantees that it will pay high prices for the next 20 years, making it easier for renewable energy suppliers to enter the market.
Such a measure comes at the expense of consumers because the prices are reflected in electricity bills, and each German household will have to pay an additional 2 euro ($2.94) a month for this project.
Korea cannot be an exception. The expansion of renewable energy use will be a burden for households and companies. Under the latest energy plan, the government has decided to produce more electricity from nuclear plants in order to make the burden easier to bear.
There have already been objections to the plan to build more nuclear plants, but we must ask ourselves first if we are willing to drastically cut down our power consumption or pay for a sudden increase in electricity bills.
Another important issue is if Korea is ready to catch up to Germany and Japan, the pioneers in the renewable energy industry. Although Korea is the world’s 13th-largest economy, the nation is not capable of developing all fields of alternate energy. Therefore, Korea must reinforce its cooperation with the technology pioneers in each field and concentrate on niche markets first in order to succeed in expansion. The nation’s future competitiveness depends on finding a way to expand Korea’s involvement in this market.
The most important factor in the new energy plan is participation. It is difficult to convince people who are not experiencing that much inconvenience to change their behaviors to secure an unseen future reward.
And yet, this is not an issue for the Lee administration alone. It is a crucial matter that requires voluntary participation of all of society, particularly companies and civic groups. The key to success is society’s faith that we can and must participate in this energy project.
*The writer is the chief of the JoongAng Ilbo editorial page .