Seoul sanguine about electricity to beat the heat

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Seoul sanguine about electricity to beat the heat

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The government said the electrical power supply will probably remain stable this summer because the national utility has a higher power reserve in place than last year. Twenty-seven generators will go online for the summer crunch; one is a new nuclear reactor and four are new coal-fired units. The others are idle during non-peak seasons.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said that it estimates a maximum power capacity this year of about 88.3 million kilowatts, 5 percent more than last year. The plan was accepted at a meeting of economic ministers Thursday in Seoul.

The Energy Ministry said it expects the nation’s power demand to peak in the second and third weeks of August at about 80.9 million kilowatts, up from last summer’s peak demand of 76 million kilowatts. Energy demand during the summer has fluctuated for the past few years, reaching 80.1 million kilowatts in 2013, but only 77.3 million kilowatts in 2012.

According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, Korea’s nationwide average temperature during the power demand peak, the second to third week of August, is estimated to near 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). July’s average temperature is about 25 degrees.

Despite the satisfaction with the projected power reserves, the Energy Ministry will again conduct an energy-saving campaign and quickly begin operations at new coal and thermal co-generation power plants to provide extra capacity of about 3.2 million kilowatts. The ministry is worried about volatile weather conditions such as periods of torrential rain or unwelcome visits by typhoons that could knock one or more power plants offline.

All those measures are designed to avert the ministry’s worst fear - massive blackouts - from coming to pass. The nation experienced such a blackout in September 2011 when sweltering heat pushed demand to unprecedented levels, tripping safety switches and leaving much of the nation without power in the afternoon and early evening. Earlier the same summer, scattered blackouts hit Seoul and some parts of the provinces after torrential rain was triggered by Typhoon Muifa as it skirted Korea’s west coast.

The government sets an air-conditioning limit on state-run organizations and commercial offices, requiring temperatures to be kept at 26 degrees Celsius or higher.

But the ministry said it planned to lift the thermostat limits at hospitals and public health clinics for medical staff that takes care of Middle East respiratory syndrome patients and suspected patients. Those medical workers must wear protective suits.

Densely packed public places like schools, libraries, childcare centers, senior homes, public transportation facilities and accommodation businesses also have been excluded from the cooling temperature limit.

On Monday, local governments will begin to cite retail stores that use air conditioners while leaving their doors open, threatening fines of up to 3 million won ($2,666). A first offense draws a warning, but higher fines will be levied for subsequent infractions.


BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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