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South Korea Starts Phasing Out Old Coal Plants

South Korea will shutter five 30-year-old coal plants in the second quarter of the year to reduce the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, the energy ministry said. The shutdown will be temporary, between March and June, while the government analyzes its effect on the quality of air. It will also devise emergency measures in case electricity demand hits a high during the shutdown period.

The five plants’ combined output is 2.3 GW of electricity, which constitutes about 2 percent from South Korea’s total electricity production. Their shutdown will result in a reduction in particulate matter in the air by 813 tons, which is equal to 8.6 percent of the total particulate matter production of the country’s coal power plants last year.

The shutdown is part of broader government efforts to shift South Korea’s energy industry away from coal and nuclear power to renewables. As part of these efforts, the government said it will stop issuing permits for new coal plants and will discuss a conversion to natural gas with the operators of existing ones. They will also be required to cut their CO2 emissions by 40 percent over the next five years and by 58 percent by 2030.

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South Korea’s Paris Agreement commitment is to cut carbon emissions by 37 from its business-as-usual levels by 2030.

Also by 2030, there should be no coal power plants in operation in South Korea, and the number of nuclear reactors in operation should be greatly reduced. There are 24 nuclear reactors operating across the country to date. Last year, Seoul shut down one plant built in the 1970s and suspended the construction of two more.

Environmental concerns are not the only driver behind South Korea’s shift to renewables. The country, according to 2015 figures, imported 98 percent of the oil, gas, and coal it used. This makes it one of the biggest oil and gas importers globally—a dependency that wouldn’t sit well with any government.

At the moment, according to Climate Action, crude oil and oil products account for 41 percent of South Korea’s primary energy consumption, followed by coal at 31 percent, and natural gas at 14 percent. Nuclear power supplies 13 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Hu Gadarn on March 01 2018 said:
    Interesting article. That's a very high % of non renewable generation (86%). So there is effectively 1% renewable electricity generation in SK. I understand that their hydro capacity may be limited by their terrain. It would be interesting though to include mention of the capacity for other renewables, such as solar and /or wind. Thanks again for the article.

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