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Korea Gets Smart about Electric Energy

Korea is aware of its status as an energy importer in a grassroots sort of way that I’ve not seen in any other country. It has no domestic supplies of fossil fuels, so whatever energy isn’t created through renewable or nuclear energy sources has to be imported.

Koreans’ awareness of their lack of traditional energy resources has manifested itself in some interesting ways. When I lived in a large apartment complex in Seoul I once had the pleasure of listening to a 30-minute lecture from the building manager on the importance of conserving energy. This, after my electric usage soared to five percent above average for the building.

It has also manifested in more productive ways. Korean companies and the government are working to build a smart grid infrastructure that will make it easier to bring more renewable energy into the mix and to make residents more cognizant of how and when the use electricity.

The first step in this is installing smart meters, which can charge higher rates for electricity at peak times during the day and lower rates in the evenings. The hope is that this will help balance the energy demand, reducing the need for additional power plants to be built. In other words, people would be encouraged to run their large appliances (and in the future charge their electric cars) at night when big, power-hungry factories scale back their production. Bloomberg reports that this could “cut electricity consumption equivalent to the cost of one nuclear power plant.”

According to the article, Korea plans to put smart meters on half of its homes by 2016 and on all the nation’s homes by 2020. That’s the same year that Korea has slated to slash its carbon emissions by 30% compared to 2009 levels, according to the Korea Times. Several local companies including LS Industrial Systems, Iljin Electric and Nuri Telecom are participating in the expanding project, in cooperation with the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

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