Expert calls for Seoul’s energy autonomy
By Kim Da-ye
Seoul should seek greater energy autonomy with its own policies, moving away from the country’s centralized energy system, a German expert told The Korea Times.
Mycle Schneider, an independent energy consultant and the author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Reports, visited Korea earlier this month for the official launch of the Seoul International Energy Advisory Council (SIEAC), which will advise Mayor Park Won-soon and the Seoul Metropolitan Government on the capital’s energy policy. Schneider was appointed as the coordinator of the SIEAC. He also attended the Seoul International Energy Conference 2013 held at City Hall on Nov. 13.
Schneider has consulted the Seoul government on the One Less Nuclear Power Plant initiative, which aims to reduce power demand, boost electricity generation from renewables and eventually generate 20 percent of electricity within the city’s boundaries by 2020. In August, civil servants and residents voted it the most needed policy for Seoulites.
Schneider said that only 3 percent of the electricity consumed in Seoul is generated in the city and that can change.
“By increasing efficiency, reducing consumption and developing renewable-energy-based production, the city also promotes a higher level of energy autonomy and responsibility. This is an excellent basic approach,” Schneider said.
In addition to the basic approach, Schneider said that the initiative could be refocused toward intelligent energy services, which means “affordable, sustainable, reliable and user-friendly.”
The intelligent energy services Schneider envisions are a holistic approach whose goal isn’t providing certain units of electricity, but is making sure people carry out their daily activities conveniently while protecting the environment.
For example, the consultant said that daylight is better than artificial light in terms of benefits to health and efficiency. Before promoting efficient artificial lighting systems, a smart policy would first provide incentives to maximize the use of daylight, he said.
“The same is true for all energy services _ passive solutions first, then the smartest active options. No point in discussing how to provide the electricity for air-conditioning if the right temperature in a building can be achieved through appropriate design or intelligent retrofitting,” Schneider said.
Schneider himself leads a life based on his belief. He has been running his own “solar experiment” off grid at a 19th-century homestead two hours away from Ottawa, Canada.
He spends about three months every year at the homestead, which is equipped with satellite-based broadband Internet, power from the sun and a “super-efficient” combined wood-propane stove for cooking and heating. He calls the setting “smart integration of technology into the local environment.”
“The solar PV system is split, part on the roof, part on a pole, which can be turned by hand to catch the morning/evening sun and can be put on a steep angle, so it does not get snow-covered in the winter,” he described.
Schneider doubts the sustainability of Korea’s supply-oriented, highly centralized energy industry. A resident of Paris, he compared it to the situation in France _ a vertically integrated, state-controlled energy industry.
He said that electricity charges in France are expected to increase by about 30 percent until 2017 because of the state-owned utility’s high debt burden and low profit margin.
He added that his Paris home gets certified renewable electricity from a small independent utility, which started with higher prices but has never increased tariffs.
In line with the criticism over a centralized energy industry, the consultant expressed a pessimistic view on nuclear energy.
“Nuclear power is a technology of the 20th century. It is old, big, expensive and slow. The 21st century will be based on small-scale, super efficient, horizontally interconnected systems that will integrate power, heat, cold, gas and water management,” said Schneider.
“Korea has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to develop and implement innovative technologies in a very short time. It is all the more surprising that this country’s decision-makers seem to be reluctant to treat nuclear power as what it is ―a technology of the past.”
At the energy conference, Schneider found interesting Sydney’s climate protection and energy policy presented by Allan Jones, an expert in energy and climate change. Sydney set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent below the 2006 level by 2030. He said that Sydney scored second in Forbes’ “World Happiest Cities” in 2009 and in 2013, and 75 percent of Sydney’s citizens are well aware of the city’s climate protection plan.
“I think this is a very inspiring combination of ambitious target, efficient implementation, effective communication and collective well-being,” Schneider said.
“It is also a great example illustrating that cities can make a difference in implementing innovative, ambitious energy policy in a framework that is not necessarily mirrored in national policy.”
Schneider suggested that Seoul follow a similar path. “Seoul’s energy policy will be implemented by and for Seoul citizens. The objective is a high quality of living in a dense urban environment. Better air, less noise, better light, higher service density and lower energy bills will make people happier and even friendlier,” he said.