Energy solution in fossil fuel cuts

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Energy solution in fossil fuel cuts

I have heard many times that Koreans need to be more innovative. But lately I am starting to think it is more imperative for Koreans to be more brave than innovative. Of course, the combination of bravery and innovation is the best.

I have heard many Korean businessmen talk about the poor future prospects for exports given the depressed global market for the manufactured items that Korea produces. For some, it seems as if the answer is just to refine products, or engage in more aggressive advertising. But I fear that more focus on marketing will mean only stunts and gimmicks, and we will lose Korea’s long-term technological advantages in the process.

The answer to Korea’s economic conundrum is obvious. If Korea significantly cuts back on fossil fuels, which make up a large amount of its imports, Korea can realize the economic equivalent of rapid economic growth even if the sales of Korean goods overseas are flat.

At the same time the dire warnings about the dangers of the continued use of fossil fuels that were issued at the conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference recently should remind us that we also have a moral responsibility to our children.

Korea is benchmarked by developing nations around the world and the speed with which Korea weans itself quickly off fossil fuels will have a positive impact far beyond its shores because others will follow Korea’s lead.

But there is also a security imperative to move away from fossil fuels that should trump any concerns people might have about trade agreements being negatively impacted by Korea’s decision to aim for 100 percent domestically produced renewable energy within 20 to 30 years.

Imagine if South Korea was engaged in some sort of conflict (with North Korea, for example) and trade around the Korean Peninsula came to a grinding halt as a result? Korea’s superior weapons would become quickly ineffective if they required fossil fuel to power them. And many Korean towns would be immobilized within a few days if fuel stopped coming into Busan and Incheon. A North Korean victory would be possible in such a scenario.

We need a revolutionary shift in Korea’s economic and industrial strategy and the equivalent of the long-term vision shown in the 1967 five-year economic plan that allowed Korea build up its ship building industry. In fact, the drive for 100 percent renewable energy could be an opportunity to establish meaningful five-year economic plans for Korea again.

Korea has the technologies necessary in turbines, electronics, electric batteries and solar panels for rapid change.

The challenge is to use the full authority of the government to speed up the process.

The military can play the critical role at the outset in this revolution. Unlike other parts of the economy, the military can simply order that all vehicles must be electric within two years and insist on the use of solar panels on all buildings in the interest of national security.

By first establishing a large market within the military for solar panels, wind farms and electric batteries, Korea then can quickly scale up the number of experts needed for maintaining these new appliances and assure that companies will make a substantial investment for future development with a guaranteed military demand.

In ship building, Korea must insist on higher standards for energy efficiency in all of the boats it produces, require that wind turbines and solar panels cover the full surface of all its ships so as to assure that they generate much of the energy that they use. Moreover, Korea can develop a large number of massive floating wind farms that can ply the waters around Korea providing critical energy.

The same can be said for the automotive sector. The government should demand that all automobiles must be electric within five years and offer large subsidies to those who turn in their automobile for a new electric one (and impose a significant carbon tax on all remaining automobiles after that date). Not only would such a policy stimulate the Korean economy in the short term in terms of manufacturing, it would make it possible for car owners to charge their cars at home using home solar panels. The costs of subsidies are minor compared with the improved air quality, the energy independence and the possibility of Korea leap-frogging to a new competitiveness in the global automotive field.

Starting with all government buildings, and extending to all commercial and residential buildings, we should require extremely strict insulation and the mandatory use of solar panels on all surfaces and transparent solar panels on all windows.

Such regulations should be implemented without exception and substantial subsidies be provided for refitting old houses. In fact, the required retrofitting of older structures with insulation for high energy efficiency, and with solar panels and small wind generators, is perhaps one of the best ways to create jobs for youth.

Another promising field for Korea is the development of electric aeroplanes. Although Korea is behind in the development of fighter planes and commercial jet planes because much of the intellectual property rights are controlled by other countries, the emerging field of electric planes is just about wide open for Korea, and Korea’s strengths in electronics could make a big difference.

If we assume that fossil-fuel airplanes will be a thing of the past in 20 years, Korea should make a decisive move to seize control of the market now.

Finally, Korea can take advantage of its cooperative relationships with major players in renewable energy to quickly scale up to meet future demands.

Korea established a “Green Alliance” with Denmark in 2011 that has promoted collaboration in the development of green technologies in technical fields.

Denmark has a plan to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Korea can learn a lot from that vision.

*The author is an associate professor at the College of International Studies, Kyung Hee University.

by Emanuel Pastreich

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