Collective push to power aheadThe early heat wave that sent Koreans sweltering in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) has triggered alarm bells at the national power grid. The authorities even conducted an emergency drill to guard against future power outages. On Tuesday, the hottest day recorded in the month of June in 12 years, electricity reserves dropped to 3.30 million kilowatts. If this level of demand for heat and electricity keeps up, last September’s nightmarish blackout may recur. On Sept. 15, 1.62 million households and other premises were hit with rolling blackouts that cost as much as 62 billion won ($53.9 million).
A road map for securing a stable supply of power has already been laid out. Rates should be rationalized and patterns of consumption fixed. A rate hike cannot be put off any longer, despite fears that it could aggravate inflation. Because electricity rates are lower than gas prices, farmers use electricity to heat vinyl greenhouses and building operators switch their air conditioners on while neglecting to close their doors. Electricity consumption shot up 30.6 percent from 2005 to 2010, compared to a rise of 1.7 percent in the United States and a contraction of 1.9 percent in Japan over the same period.
The authorities must work faster to expand and renovate local power grids, as electricity consumption will naturally rise as people’s standard of living improves. Additionally, more power stations are needed to satisfy supply. However, the government’s plan to build another 50 power stations has hit a deadlock due to opposition from residents and environmental groups. The private sector was invited to participate in the construction of thermal power stations, but the project has not been able to move forward due to the strong level of resistance. Furthermore, the deficit-ridden Korea Electric Power Corporation cannot afford to proceed with the necessary renovations and repairs, which could lead to accidents.
As such, the responsibility of curbing energy use falls on our shoulders, especially during the peak times of summer and winter. The government, companies and households must all pitch in to prevent a blackout, and the government should do its utmost to minimize the damage and inconvenience to the public. There are also strong arguments to be made for raising utility rates and increasing the number of power stations, not least of which is avoiding a national catastrophe.