Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sustainable energy, smart-grids, and Korea's islands

The title of an article recently published in the Korea Joongang Daily caught my attention, along with the illustrations it contained.  You see, I'm going to visit the island province of Jeju later this month and plan to extend my stay for the specific purpose of learning all I can and observing the results of a large smart-grid pilot project conducted there in recent years.  The title of the article, "Global sustainable energy starts on Korea's islands," also resonated with material being covered in the course I've taught this semester on ICT for development, which placed considerable emphasis on sustainability.  As noted in the article, "Tiny Gasa Island off the nation’s southwestern coast is perhaps best known for the special seaweed its residents export to Japan. But these days, it’s the wind turbines and solar panels making the island energy independent that are grabbing all the attention. (click on the graphic to see a full size version) The island is home to the nation’s first completely automated energy management system that powers Gasa Island’s homes and small businesses. Developed by the nation’s sole distributor, Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), the system also stores extra power in electricity storage system (ESS) batteries in case of outages. The fully charged batteries can provide enough electricity to supply the entire island for up to 24 hours."

"Before the microgrid facilities arrived, the island used to be entirely dependent on old and costly diesel power plants. In order to pay for power, the Jindo County government used to face an average operating loss of 700 million won ($629,000) every year. But after Kepco came in last October, the small island has shaved 150 million won from its power bill over the past six months." The article also noted that "The microgrid project on Gasa Island is one of Kepco’s test-bed communities, which the corporation hopes can demonstrate the viability of its systems for use on far-away islands and in mountain villages. So far, the government has worked with Kepco to transfer the system to 86 other islands around the peninsula." Reading about this project made me wonder just how many islands surround coast of South Korea. According to one government website there are more than three thousand islands, only about 400 of which are inhabited. In addition to their natural beauty, they comprise a potentially very valuable test bed for developing sustainable energy that might be exported and shared around the world.

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