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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
South Korea’s Shin Kori nuclear power station set against blue sky Photo: Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power
Units 1 and 2 of South Korea’s Shin Kori nuclear power station

Photo: Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power

Asia doesn’t necessarily follow a European-style lead to energy transition. For example, fossil fuels will remain essential to South Korea’s energy mix for some time, whatever its route to carbon neutrality, reports Maria Kielmas.

Is economic survival incompatible with carbon neutrality? This is the issue facing South Korea as it embarks on its second energy policy revision in five years. As the world’s 10th largest, but resource-poor, economy that derives over 85% of its energy needs from fossil fuels, and imports 98% of those, the transition to non-fossil fuels was always going to be precarious.


Like other East Asian countries its power generation is heavily coal reliant. The national electricity grid is isolated so, unlike European countries, expansion of intermittent renewable energy means that backup power for load balancing needs cannot be imported.


The crux of the energy argument is whether the transition to carbon neutrality is led by nuclear or renewables. All sides aim for a major hydrogen component. But whether hydrogen is imported, created from steam-reformed imported methane, or from nuclear-powered water electrolysis, remains an open question. While Seoul’s streets boast more than 2,000 hydrogen fuel cell cars, with shipping and other vehicles next in line for hydrogen fuel cell development, public scepticism about the costs of a hydrogen economy is growing.


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