Changes in Energy Policy in South Korea

Hanna Chang
November 20, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Fig. 1: Lighted streets of Gangnam: energy inefficiency in the heart of Korea. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Studying the energy policies and resources of South Korea is a noteworthy for the study of renewable resources, because it was the "first country in Asia to pass legislation introducing a national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading scheme (ETS)". [1] ETS is a type of energy policy based on the cap and trade system and it reflects the joint effort made internationally to reduce carbon emissions. Ever since it passed the ETS legislation in 2015, as it is stated in the Paris Climate Conference, South Korea has been making efforts to reduce it carbon emissions by 37 percent which is equivalent to 851 metric tons of carbon dioxide by the year of 2030. [2] In order to better understand South Korea's history and changing energy policy, it is important to analyze its current carbon footprint and its main source of energy, which can eventually lead to the reality and limitations of implementing green energy in South Korea.

Analysis of Energy Consumption

The main problem that South Korea is facing regarding its carbon emissions is its lack of domestic energy resources. South Korea relies 98 percent of its fossil fuel consumption on imports to compensate the lack of domestic energy sources. [3] According to statistics offered by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, South Korea's energy consumption heavily depends on nonrenewable resources such as coal and petroleum and liquids, which makes up almost 70 percent of its energy consumption. As "sixth-highest nuclear generation capacity in the world", South Korea also heavily relies on its nuclear power resources which is another nonrenewable energy source. [3] Energy derived from these nonrenewable energy sources are not efficiently used in many cases. Fig. 1 shown the lighted streets of Gangnam, also known as the heart of Seoul, as a example of unnecessary energy use - in this case to light up a popular nightlife district. The lack of governmental regulation regarding this unnecessary outdoor lighting indicates immense financial spending, lack of environmental conservation and the heavy reliance on electricity to maintain the wild city life of Seoul.

The initial proposal on implementing the Emission Trading Scheme in 2009 was the first step to leading to changes in energy efficiency and climate policy in Korea. Another influential change in the energy policy was followed by the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in 2011, which gave rise to concerns on relying on nuclear energy. The health, financial, environmental consequences of the nuclear accident in a neighbouring country motivated the Korean government to seek for other renewable energy as an energy alternative. Many efforts has been made regarding energy policy, but the implementation of green infrastructure has to be analyzed to see the impact of these initiatives on energy policy.

New Green Energy Policy and Regulations

With the analysis of the energy landscape and history of energy consumption, it is necessary to assess the governmental efforts to promote renewable energy and to reduce nonrenewable energy consumption. The South Korean government changed its energy policies from Feed-In-Tariffs (FIT) to Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2012. This change signified active measures taken by the Korean government to lead energy consumption and carbon emission changes. The Renewable Portfolio Standard also known as the RPS enforces "retail electricity suppliers procure a certain minimum quantity of eligible renewable energy or capacity". [4] Facilitated by the Renewable Energy Certificate, the newly enforced RPS energy policy encourages energy suppliers generating more than 500 MW to produce energy from renewable energy resources "or else face penalties". [5] It demonstrates the ambitious target goal of increasing renewable energy sources to "10 percent in 2024". [5] The most promising renewable energy resources will come from wind farms which is still in the process of being installed. The installation of 500 turbines will come to completion in 2019 and the wind farm will be "capable of producing the same amount of electricity as two nuclear power plants". [6] Also, the South Korea has made successful initiatives regarding the installation of solar power plants which are capable of producing electricity for 10,000 houses. [6] However, despite these improvements in implementing green infrastructure, the South Korean government is far from reaching its goals of increasing renewable energy resources to 10 percent.


Although the Korean government has made ambitious measures to enforce the use of renewable energy, the regulation of the RPS and the economic viability of various energy projects pose sources of challenges that the Korean government has to consider. With the high carbon emissions and the heavy reliance on fossil fuels and coals, South Korea has to focus more on seeking future measures to consolidate and ensure the sustainability of their goal of reducing carbon emissions by 30%. The implementation of green infrastructure should be enforced and monitored in a more systematic manner, so energy-intensive industries in South Korea don't use goals of green infrastructure as a mere marketing tactic.

© Hanna Chang. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. Yoo, "South Korea Steams Ahead," Environmental Finance, 2012.

[2] "Paris Climate Conference: South Korea," Natural Resources Defense Council, November 2015.

[3] "Country Analysis Brief: South Korea," U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 2017.

[5] "2016 Top Markets Report - Renewable Fuels - Country Case Study: South Korea," U.S. International Trade Administration, 2016.

[4] R.Wiser et al., "Renewables Portfolio Standards: A Factual Introduction to Experience from the United States," Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, LBNL-62569, April 2007.

[6] M. Chanal, "How is 100% Renewable Energy Possible in South Korea by 2020?," Global Energy Network Institute, August 2012.