▲ The Smart Grid Information Center houses a fully-functioning total operating center, which is the main brain of the island's sprawling smart power grid. Photo by Jean K. Min
Whenever I drive along Haengwon, one of the island’s key windmill clusters, I often wonder why each wind power generator there is of a different make and model. If maximum efficiency is the goal of every windmill cluster in the world, wouldn’t it be better to install the same make and model across the cluster?
This question was resolved last week upon a visit to the newly-opened Smart Grid showrooms. The windmills there were not set up for commercial power generation but were intended for beta-testing before mass deployment across the nation.
As the name of the Smart Grid test bed states clearly, the role of Jeju in popularizing the concept is to beta-test the feasibility of a variety of green energy alternatives and technologies and come up with some recommendations. One of the experiments includes recycling energy from used seawater when it is dumped from fish farms into the ocean.
Governor Woo Keun Min told The Jeju Weekly in late November 2010 [Issue 38] how Jeju Island has been designated a small-scale test area for a national 2.75 trillion won Smart Grid project set for completion in 2030.
“During the Italian G8 Summit [in 2009], each country was given an assignment. President Lee Myung Bak suggested that Korea would take up anything related to the Smart Grid,” Woo said.
Green energy is nothing new to the residents of Jeju. The island boasts hun-dreds of giant wind turbines planted along the shore, and many local farmers tap into solar-powered boilers and rooftop photo-voltaic panels for everyday energy use.
Despite the decades-long development though, today’s green energy still relies on the brute force of centralized power generation and distribution models inherited from the days of old-school energy pol-icies. The Smart Grid model tries to redesign the legacy power system from its core by incorporating a massively distributed but smartly-controlled micro power-grid, preferably owned by the people.
In the Smart Grid model, the distribution of electricity from the main power station would give way to the more efficient management of the micro-grid system. Each home would have either a wind turbine or photovoltaic panels installed. These again would be wired to the main grid.
But why did Seoul pick Jeju Island for the test bed rather than competing cities on the mainland? “An island is an ideal place to beta-test a micro-grid system and fine tune its control algorithm,” Kim Dae Hwan, the chief executive of Daekyung Engineering, a Jeju-based construction and engineering firm experimenting with a similar concept in Gapado, told The Jeju Weekly. If the system performs well on the test bed and is judged to be ready for full-scale commercial application, Kim believes green energy researchers could transplant the model to the mainland and then the world.
Such a routine in the application of systemic innovation is not new. Better Place, an Israel-based start-up that aims to transform ground transportation by employing electric cars and nation-wide battery swap stations started its first experiment in Hawaii, before it applies the concept to the 48 contiguous states.
The Smart Grid test bed in Jeju is not a single facility. It is composed of five main showrooms and test facilities owned and run by LG, GS Caltex, SK, POSCO and KEPCO and includes a fully-functioning total operating center (TOC). The show-rooms and test facilities are scattered along the Northeastern corridor of Jeju Island. [See accompanying map for a more detailed guide of the facilities.]
Hopping over those showrooms, wind-mills, and solar panels, planted along some 20 kilometers, this writer felt they would make a perfect green energy tour course for students on school excursions to Jeju.
Hong Sung Hwa, Jeju MICE industry project director, concurs. Hong believes that the island’s status as a test bed for the nation’s carbon-free economy has offered its MICE industry an unusual oppor-tunity—a special-themed tour about green energy infrastructure and the smart grid energy network. “In the future, the test bed will function as an educational field trip site for relevant enterprises and students alike,” he told The Jeju Weekly.
Two tour programs have been conceived to capitalize on the Smart Grid test-bed: Smart Power and Smart Solar. While the first focuses on informing the visitors about the history of Jeju’s energy usage, the second focuses on programs related to future energy alternatives. All the while, visitors will be exposed to Jeju’s exquisite scenery and uniquely traditional monuments like Seongsan Sunrise Peak and the Jeju Folk Village.
Lee Jae Wook, vice manager of Singapore Tourism Board, advised during the 2nd Jeju Int’l Green MICE Week last October that Jeju will ultimately need to have its own home-grown industrial base to jump start the MICE business. A full-fledged industrial complex based in the island will naturally attract lots of future conventions and corporate events inherent in the industry, he said.
For now, the island’s test bed for green energy and Smart Grid seems to fit the bill.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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