[Outlook]Higher energy education

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[Outlook]Higher energy education

In November, the current account surplus was $4.9 billion, a record high in the history of the country. This news was all the more striking because of the gloomy economic news stemming from the global crisis that spews out of the media day after day.

It turned out that the fall in international oil prices was the biggest cause for the current account surplus. This fact shows that the stability of our economy depends on how much it costs for us to import fuel. Since the government’s announcement that it will be pursuing green development with low carbon dioxide emissions, government agencies, local governments, companies and social organizations have presented a variety of ideas and measures for the movement.

Universities should not be exempt. There are 300 institutions of higher education schools in Korea, with a total population of over 3 million people, and these institutions make up an important part of our society.

But the reality is that universities aren’t actively participating in the green movement. In 2006, 23 universities were on the list of the 190 organizations that consumed the most energy, with Seoul National University coming in fifth. The national university’s electricity bills for one year came to nearly 10 billion won ($67 million). For the past four years, the school’s electricity use has doubled. It also uses 1.8 billion liters of water yearly.

Most universities across the country have a similar tendency, although it is difficult to get exact figures. Universities’ energy consumption is increasing at a faster rate than that of the entire country. These schools need to control their demand for energy.

There wouldn’t be a problem if they were using the energy for quality education and competitive research. But this is not what’s actually happening. Classrooms are lit when no lectures are going on. Computers are left on all day, even if they aren’t being used. Elevators are used too frequently. Heating and cooling equipment is used excessively in research rooms. Universities waste energy as if it was abundant, despite the fact that our country is going through an energy crisis.

I also work at a university and am not free from criticism. Families and company workers are trying to save even single sheets of paper and individual light bulbs. Compared with these efforts, one could even go so far as to say that universities are being unethical in terms of energy consumption.

But we can’t just blame the individuals for the institutions’ lack of a sense of crisis. Another significant reason is the fact that the schools are supplied cheap electricity at lower than cost. When goods are not bought at the proper prices, they are inevitably wasted. Support for schools is important, but the methods for such support need to be re-examined.

Another important cause is that most universities don’t have the leadership necessary to deal with energy issues in a comprehensive way.

As I live in a relatively new apartment building, I can see the benefits of more advanced insulation technology. The apartment has double-glazed windows that keep the heat in well. Even during the winter I can stay warm without having to heat the apartment very much.

Meanwhile, even when putting in new buildings, universities don’t think much about efficient energy consumption, as if they don’t know that energy-saving technologies have developed significantly.

Even in a research room in a new building, it is so cold that they need to cover the windows with plastic sheets. The old buildings are even worse, having been built without any consideration for energy use.

The university community was very slow in joining society’s efforts to handle the energy crisis, but recently several schools have formed committees to make their campuses greener when it comes to energy use.

Korea University decided to make its campus free of cars. Chosun has a plan to use solar energy in dormitories. In October, Seoul National held a ceremony at which it declared that it would become an environmentally friendly university, revealing a plan to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

More universities are expected to decide to run their campuses in a more eco-friendly way. We should definitely encourage the establishment of eco-campuses that take into account coexistence with nature and the quality of life of those using the institution.

Universities in our country played an important role in the democratization process. These days, they continuously produce outstanding academic achievements and are delivering many key industrial technologies that we need for our growth engine industries. These organizations that train and produce the leaders of the future have a duty to participate in the movement to turn their campuses into greener places.

*The writer is a professor in the School of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Je-yong

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