Summer power outage expected
By Kim Tae-gyu
The country faces a severe energy shortage this month as hot temperatures have seen electricity use rise and things are feared to worsen in the summer.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) said Thursday that the nation’s reserve electricity in peak times frequently fell below the dangerous 5 million kilowatt mark this month.
``The current power supply amounts to around 63.4 million kilowatts, down by 5.6 million kilowatts from a year before, while the maximum demand surpasses 59 million kilowatts, up by 1.7 million kilowatts,’’ an MKE official said.
``As a result, reserves plummet to as low as 4.2 million kilowatts, just 6.6 percent of capacity, when energy consumption reaches a peak during the hot daytime.’’
The official added that things would be much worse lest the country introduced a system of encouraging big companies to rearrange their operation times away from the early afternoon.
``The shutdown of nuclear reactors for maintenance has caused a reduction in supply while the unseasonably hot weather of late has led to increased demand,’’ he added.
Asia’s fourth-largest economy presently runs a total of 21 nuclear reactors, which account for about a third of the country’s energy mix, but four of them stopped operations for repairs or fire, resulting in losses of 3.6 million kilowatts.
In particular, their resumption of operations has been delayed due to rising concerns over safety after the Fukushima disaster early 2011 and the latest cover-up of incidents at an atomic power plant near Busan.
In February this year, an emergency power generator broke down in the Gori reactor but scores of engineers and technicians opted not to report the problem to the relevant authorities.
It took more than a month for the cover-up to be made public midway through March, after a member of Busan’s municipal assembly accidently learned about the incident.
It generated nationwide uproar regarding nuclear safety and the MKE has carried out special inspections of all the country’s reactors and maintenance work is taking longer than originally scheduled.
``The situation is feared to get worse during the hot summer. We will work out a set of measures to cut down demands for electricity,’’ he said.
``For instance, we will ask companies to set employees’ summer holiday for late August when energy reserves tend to hit their lowest level. Plus, repairs of many nuclear reactors will be readjusted from spring to fall.’’
In the aftermath of the unprecedented rolling power cuts last September, brought about by an unseasonable heat wave, the MKE has made energy polices its top priority.
While admitting that low energy prices are one of the main reasons for rocketing consumption, the MKE fell short of coming up with pledges to increase bills.
Deficit-stricken Korea Electricity Power Corp., which provides almost 90 percent of the nation’s electricity, has claimed that this year's energy bill should go up by 13.1 percent.
``We are currently reviewing the application. After checking all the factors such as its influence on inflation, we will come to a conclusion,’’ MKE Vice Minister Cho Seok said in a press meeting.
The Seoul-based utility company claims that the current energy charges cover merely 90 percent of the costs because of the recent appreciation of raw materials like coal or crude oil.
As a result, the former state monopoly has suffered trillions of won in deficits over the past few years. Yet, the government refuses to accept its requests for abrupt hikes of energy prices as such measures are feared to raise inflationary pressures.