▲ Looking nothing like their Dutch windmill predecessors, the modern wind turbines on Jeju Island, such as this one at Shin Chang are harnessing the power of the wind and supplying electricity to islanders. Photo by Ju Ki Seung
Wind is a constant companion of any people who make their home on an island. You learn to live with it, or you leave.
The people of Jeju long ago learned to not only live with the wind, but to work with it, and make it part of their daily lives. They are still doing that today, albeit in a much more high-tech way.
Single-story homes were built of stone, with heavy thatched roofs tied down by a lattice-work of rope. Narrow streets, or “olles,” were lined with lava stone walls, loosely stacked to allow the wind to pass through. The streets themselves were winding, preventing the rockwalled thoroughfare from becoming a wind tunnel.
In the spring the wind ripples across the fields of ripening barley and scatters the cherry blossoms; in summer it drives the rain horizontally, and provides a cooling breeze. In fall it coaxes the leaves from the trees, and in winter it blows the snow into playful, dancing swirls.
But Jeju’s harnessing of the wind is not all quaint cottages and poetic license. Jeju is at the forefront of the movement to tame the wild winds and pull forth its potential to provide alternative energy for the future. And the future on Jeju is now.
▲ Jeju villagers long ago learned to adapt to the windy nature of their island home, developing a unique method of securing their thatched roofs with hand-twisted rope made from straw that can still be seen today. Photo courtesy Jeju Provincial Government
The island was recently named as a “national test bed for climate change,” and is striving to establish a clean energy infrastructure use two of the island’s plentiful resources: wind and sun.
The Jeju landscape contains several large wind “farms,” their tall towers dominating the horizon, two long, thin white blades on each “windmill” slowly turning in the ever-present wind.
The original four kilowatt wind turbines, imported from Australia in 1980, provided electricity for 12 households in four villages. The next year the central government declared Jeju a “Wind Power Energy City,” a joint Korea-Germany Solar/Wind Energy Development System was established in Hallim.
The Jeju Hangwon Wind Farm, located in Hangwon on the north coast, was established in 1997 and featured two Danish 600 KW wind turbine generator systems. The farm has grown to include 15 generators, which from 1998 to 2008 produced 150,000 megawatts of power, worth 10 billion won in profit. The Jeju government plans to replace the Danish generators with ones made in Korea, which would greatly reduce maintenance costs.
While the Jeju Provincial Government is the largest producer of wind-generated electricity, private power companies are also turning an eye toward the cleaner, greener energy source.
Korea Southern Power Co. Ltd. was the first, when in 2005 it constructed 6 megawatts of wind farm facilities, with a 15 billion won investment.
The government anticipates that by 2015 Jeju’s wind farms will be able to provide 500 megawatts of wind-generated electricity, or about 10 percent of Jeju’s electrical needs.
While people may debate whether the tall, futuristic white towers, visible for miles, are an eyesore or a work of art, there is no denying that their contribution to Jeju’s energy needs puts the island on the clean, green path to the future.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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