▲ Renewable energy is the way of the future and many of the residents of Dong Gwang village have jumped on that band wagon by attempting to become completely reliant on solar-cells for energy. Photo by Chris Moule
With global consciousness being increasingly preoccupied with green or environmentally-friendly concerns, renewable sources of energy are placed more and more on the agenda of both government and business, and in the minds of the populace. One source of renewable energy is solar radiation and this is something which Jeju is in engaging with at the levels of industry, government policy and consumption.
Currently, Jeju relies on various sources for energy. Yang Jong Shil, a project manager for the Future Strategy Industry Division of the provincial government, listed the sources as follows: oil and gas generators, wind power, geothermal energy sources, solar panels, small water generators, incineration (or waste-to-energy conversion) but mostly a submarine, electrical cable connecting the mainland’s Jeolla Province (the energy supplier) to Jeju (the receiver). You might think of this as a huge extension cord for Korea’s plug-in tourist destination, Jeju.
Though many of Jeju’s energy sources make no use of fossil fuels, such sources are not primary and the use of fossil fuels will decrease significantly with time, Yang said. To date, he said, only about 5 percent of Jeju’s energy consumption is produced via carbon-free methods, or with total carbon neutrality. The phrase carbon neutral was hailed as Oxford’s 2006 “word of the year,” reflecting the emerging recognition of green concepts, and means, according to Oxford University Press, “calculating [one’s] total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing [one’s] remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in ‘green’ technologies such as solar and wind power.” Jeju’s goal, according to Yang, is to be completely carbon free in the future, and — as a stepping stone — to be 50 percent carbon free by 2050.
When asked what future role solar power would have in this plan, Yang said that the provincial offices of Jeju are already partly powered by solar energy. Looking up at the fluorescent lighting, one can imagine the journey of the photon: born at the heart of the sun, exploding at the speed of light toward our planet, colliding with a solar cell on the roof’s ceiling and, through a process of modern technology, pushing more photons from the fluorescent bulbs so that the windowless office is well-lit. Yang said that only about 3 percent of the building’s energy is generated by the sun. Though this is a small percentage, “most public buildings use solar power these days,” he said, adding that “it’s our [the provincial government’s] policy now.” Furthermore, he said, solar panels keep popping up on “the roofs of more and more private structures, including residential buildings.”
This is most visibly noticeable in the village of Dong Gwang, located in the south-western quadrant of Jeju. Here one can see the fruit of a government-initiated project that began in 2003 to create what Yang called a “solar-powered village.” The project was initiated by both the central and provincial governments and allowed villagers to apply for a package that included financing for most of the installation costs, as well as five years of maintenance costs paid for by the governments. The price tag for installation alone on this project was 2.25 billion won. Driving by the village one can see, alongside the old style housing, many futuristic-looking solar panels, either on house roofs or standing alone overlooking the rock walls that divide small farms. Even the village’s elementary school is adorned with panels. KEPCO electrical generators were provided to residents in case of cloudy weather or other problems.
Yang said that this was the first project of its kind in Korea and also, with a cheerful smile, that the project had been very successful. Since that time, residents who missed out on the original project have been applying for other solar packages that the government offers. The package available at the time of writing this article included 50 percent installation funding for residents. At 20 million won for domestic solar-panel installation, the initial cost for citizens is roughly 10 million won and yet, despite this still hefty startup price, the number of applicants exceeds the availability.
Electrical companies of Jeju have been quick to see the new potential market. At the time of the construction of the solar village, only 10 Jeju companies had obtained the permit required for working with solar panels, issued by the central government’s Ministry of Knowledge and Economy. There are now more than 150 Jeju companies licensed to do the work.
Green industries from outside of Korea are also shifting their gaze to Jeju, looking to set up manufacturing plants on the island.
Kim Nam Jin, a project manager for the provincial government, said that an incentive package is currently being negotiated for a Chinese company looking to have a solar-cell manufacturing plant on Jeju. “Jeju is a very clean area”, Kim said, “which is a good image for their products.”
“Jeju’s primary industries are the so-called tertiary industries,” Kim said, “such as agriculture and tourism.” Secondary types, such as production and manufacturing, are areas where Jeju’s participation has been weaker. This has often had to do with the fact that Jeju is an island, and that the transportation required for manufacturing would be slowed by the sea voyage. In the case of solar-cell production, however, imports and exports are very light — sufficiently so, in fact, that shipment by air would be the standard method. Thin slices of silicon dioxide, imported from China, would be used to make solar cells in Jeju, which would then be sent to plants —in Korea, Japan or China — for further processing and construction into solar modules. All the shipping could be done by plane. If negotiations go well, Kim said, Jeju could see construction of the new plant this year.
As Jeju’s reliance on fossil fuels becomes increasingly superseded by renewable sources such as solar energy, it is perhaps fitting to the island’s green image that its manufacturing sector should be turning to green technology. With solar panels and the industry poised and ready for a bright future, it’s not only Jeju’s tourism that will profit from sunny days, but its residents and those invested in the technology will also.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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