Electricity use spikes as Korea heat wave persists

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Electricity use spikes as Korea heat wave persists

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Employees of Korea Electric Power Corporation monitor electricity usage at its Seoul headquarters in Jung District, central Seoul, on Monday. [NEWSIS]

As a heat wave continues to choke Korea, daily electricity consumption has broken records four times this summer.

On July 11, consumption was 78.2 million kilowatts, higher than at any point of the year. Usage increased on July 25 to 80.2 million kilowatts and on July 26 to 81.1 million kilowatts.

Monday’s consumption of 83.7 million kilowatts was an all-time high for either winter or summer. The previous all-time high was Jan. 21’s 82.97 million kilowatts

Demand was 93 percent of capacity. The government tries not to surpass the 85 percent usage level on any given day.

The Korea Electric Power Corporation and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced they will work to reduce electricity use across the nation through various measures, such as asking shop owners not to keep their doors open during operating hours.

“We will visit businesses in Gangnam in Southern Seoul and tell owners not to operate stores with their doors open,” said Chae Hee-bong, head of the energy resource division at the Trade Ministry in a press briefing Tuesday. “We are planning to fine them if they do so starting as early as next week.”

According to the Trade Ministry, the government is planning on fining retailers between 500,000 won ($451) to 3 million won. The government fined retailers for keeping their doors open during operating hours from 2013 to 2015. Earlier this year it said it wouldn’t resort to the measure.

In Korea, a progressive billing system is applied to household electricity usage, which means that people pay more per unit if they use more. For businesses and industries, there is no such system.

Korean households pay 60.7 won per kilowatt for the first 100 kilowatts in a month. The price goes up to 125.9 won for the next 100 kilowatts per month and as high as 709.5 won per kilowatt — or 1,100.7 percent more than the starting price — if they consume more than 500 kilowatts in a month. There are six levels.

Developed countries like the United States and Japan also have a progressive stage system on household electricity, but the gap between lowest and highest rates is only 101.4 percent. Many Korean households try to use air conditioners as little as possible to avoid huge bills.

The progressive stage system was established during the 1970s oil crisis in order to save energy for industries. Since then, there have been many attempts to fix the law, but no progress has been made.

People who support the status quo say a change would only benefit middle and high income households. They believe any change would start with an increase in the basic price, which would hurt the poor.

The Trade Ministry on Tuesday said that the government is not charging ordinary households an excessive amount through the system.

“A monthly bill will never go over the 100,000 won-level if one uses small sized air conditioner eight hours a day or a big one for four hours a day. Our data shows that a typical Korean household uses an air conditioner four hours on average,” said Chae.

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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