IN DEPTH: Korea PV sector goal plea

South Korea’s PV industry body has issued a plea to the country’s new government to dramatically raise its solar ambitions amid fears of a renewables policy hiatus in the Asian nation.

The current PV installation target is not ambitious enough, claimed Jae Hong Seo, senior manager of the Korea Photovoltaic Industry Association (KOIPA).

“The government’s goals are too low,” said Seo. “We have the space and potential to install 30GW by 2030. And the most effective way to promote renewable energy is to continue installing PV.”

The country installed 258MW of PV last year under its new renewable portfolio standard (RPS) scheme, bringing total installed capacity to 982MW.

Korea lags nations such as Japan in installations partly because the government has yet to set ambitious mid- to long-term goals for PV.

KOIPA has lobbied for 30GW by 2030, up sharply from the government’s current target of 3.5GW. Seoul is set to revise its long-term installation goal by the end of this year. “But we don’t know what the government is thinking now,” Seo says.

The Korean government has set  an overall 11% share target for renewable energy by 2030.

Last year, Korea replaced its feed-in tariff (FIT) system with the RPS, after the nation reached its 500MW installation cap under the FIT in 2010. The RPS is designed to lower solar costs over time by having companies bid for projects.  

Yearly installations peaked under the FIT at 275.7MW in 2008, but fell in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the year the FIT was scrapped, annual installations plunged to a low of 78.8MW. Installations spiked again in 2012, the first year of the RPS.

“The RPS is less effective than the FIT, but it is still an important driving force in encouraging PV installations,” Seo says.

Under the RPS system, utilities are legally required to develop and install renewable energy systems. Power companies with 5GW of capacity or more must generate a certain percentage of electricity through renewable sources, with revised quotas introduced every year.

Korea faces electricity shortages because the authorities have shut down several nuclear reactors in recent months due to the use of unauthorised components such as fuses and switches. Nuclear supplies about 30% of the nation’s total electricity needs.

The government is now compensating major industrial electricity users such as chemical producers to offset these shortages by shutting down operations during specified periods. “(KOIPA)thinks the government should stop compensating them and use those funds to install PV instead,” says Seo.

The previous Korean government, under former President Lee Myung-bak, promoted the development of renewables under its signature "green growth" strategy.

But the current government under President Park Geun-hye – in power since February – has yet to flesh out new policies for renewable development, in part because of a desire to distance itself from Lee's approach, Seo claims.

This has left the future of PV, wind and other resources in limbo. “Park is not necessarily opposed to renewables development, but… the intensity of renewables policy has decreased under this government,” Seo says. “They haven’t issued a new plan or a road map.”

PV could serve as the main driver for the entire renewable energy sector, Seo argues, noting Korea’s strengths in technologically related industries such as liquid-crystal displays and semiconductors. Solar is ideally positioned for growth because it offers greater potential than wind, he claims.

“We should make use of our established infrastructure, because we don’t have to import anything – we can make everything here.”