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Our participation is the key

An unprecedented cold wave has hit Korea to the point of causing a potential blackout. This rings sharp alarm bells across the country after its electricity reserves dropped to 4 million kilowatts yesterday morning from 7 million kilowatts earlier. Conventional wisdom says that demand for electricity increases by 400,000 to 500,000 kilowatts as temperature goes down by 1 degree Celsius in winter. With an intense cold spell expected, concerns about the possibility of a massive power outage will likely prevail throughout the winter.

To prepare for the electricity crisis, the government has entered demand-control mode to encourage large electricity consumers to avoid peak-time usage after making individual contracts with them. The government authorities have also come up with emergency plans to receive as much as 500,000 kilowatts from civilian power generators. But most experts say the government can hardly end people’s fear of a catastrophic blackout unless electricity consumption decreases noticeably, in the civilian sector in particular. The government’s decision to limit indoor temperatures of department stores, major supermarkets and large commercial buildings to 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and ban them from lighting their neon signs during peak time reflects the severity of the situation as well as the desperation of the government.

However, it is very fortunate that local governments, big and small, are voluntarily devising fresh ideas to cope with the crisis. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has not only decided to turn off all the lights of City Hall after 7 p.m. every Wednesday but also launched an ingenious campaign to select and reward exemplary restaurants and homes for energy-saving efforts. South Chungcheong and city of Changwon in South Gyeongsang, have also concocted plans to put out lights near the doors of buildings and force all civil servants to wear long underwear during work hours. The expected effects from the government sector would still be minimal if civilians do not actively participate in the campaign.

Haggling over the government’s directive to lower indoor temperatures or turn off the lights in the commercial districts reportedly takes place quite often as business owners complain that the government tries to enforce energy-saving measures without giving them enough time to prepare. But there are still many homes which simply ignore the government’s recommendation to lower the temperature to below 20 degrees Celsius. Frequent breakdowns of nuclear reactors adds to the risk of a massive energy crunch. It all depends on ordinary citizens’ voluntary participation in the campaign.

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