South Korea wants to significantly expand renewable energy as a way to meet its carbon neutrality goal by 2050. To do so, the government has unveiled a plan to build the world’s largest wind power plant by 2030, which would cost $43 billion and boost the country’s wind capacity drastically.
A visit from President Moon Jae-in the coastal town of Sinan marked the start of activity for the plant, which will have a maximum capacity of 8.2 gigawatts, enough to power 2,500,000 million homes. “With this project, we are accelerating the eco-friendly energy transition and moving more vigorously toward carbon neutrality,” Moon said, speaking at the event.
The companies involved in the project will provide about 98% of the funding, with the government providing the remaining 2%. The wind farm will create up to 5,600 jobs and help the country reach its goal of 16.5 GW of wind power generation capacity by 2030, up from the current 1.67 GW. The energy produced would equal six nuclear reactors, the government estimated.
The world’s largest offshore wind farm is currently Hornsea 1, located in the UK and with 1.12 GW capacity. The project is part of an $8.7bn investment to transform the region into a hub for the UK’s renewable energy sector. The wind farm will have a lifespan of approximately 25 years and power approximately one million UK homes.
"The government will provide every necessary support under the goal of making [South Korea] one of the world's top five offshore wind powerhouses by 2030," Moon said. "We will shorten the project preparation period, which takes more than five years to start construction, and enact special laws to provide comprehensive support from location discovery to licensing."
President Moon Jae-in announced last year that South Korea aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, following his promise to carry out a Green New Deal amid the coronavirus pandemic. But this is easier said than done. The country is the world’s fourth-largest importer of coal and the third investor in overseas coal projects.
South Korea already submitted a carbon neutrality strategy to the United Nations, in which it outlines its plans to decarbonize the country’s energy, agriculture, and transportation sectors. A further expansion of solar and wind energy is central to the plan of the government, as reflected now with the wind energy plant announcement. Renewables now make up just 4% of the country’s electricity mix.
For the government, the largest challenge is probably changing its energy matrix, which now relies 44% on coal, essentially the dirtiest form of power. The country now has seven new coal plants (5.4 GW) under construction and another two plants (2.1 GW) planned, as well as several retrofits in various stages of planning, according to a report by Carbon Tracker, a financial think tank.
In its 2050 strategy, the government argues that it plans to phase out all coal plants or convert them to run on liquefied natural gas. But doing so conflicts with the country’s carbon neutrality ambition. Natural as is usually described as a cleaner fuel than coal and has been described as a "transition" fuel. But this doesn't mean it's climate-friendly, as it emits around half the CO2 when burned for energy.