Power sector in 2030
Coal (43%), gas (25%), and nuclear (25%) comprise the largest shares of South Korea’s power sector. To be on a 1.5°C compatible pathway, South Korea would need to phase out coal by around 2030, gas between 2039-2047, and increase the share of renewables in power generation. The latter’s share in the power mix could reach between 27% to 44% by 2030.
Similar studies based on comparable Paris Agreement compatible pathways show a penetration of renewables up to 48% by 2030 and coal phased out by 2029., Higher shares could avoid reliance on nuclear energy, LNG, and/or carbon capture and storage, technologies which have decreasing social acceptance, risks of carbon lock-in, and are unproven and costly compared with renewables.
The government acknowledges that, due to steadily decreasing investment costs for wind and solar, a renewable based power system will be an economically viable option by 2030. However, they see the intermittency and volatility issues associated with wind and solar electricity generation as a significant roadblock. The recently released 9th Basic Plan for Power Supply and Demand has coal, LNG, and renewables making up 15%, 31%, and 40% of the planned 193 GW of installed capacity in 2034. LNG capacity will increase from 2019 levels of 40 GW to 59 GW by 2034 (although its share of the total will decrease) and 29 GW of coal capacity would still be online in that year (compared to 37 GW in 2019). The plan implies that coal would be phased out 25 years later than what a Paris Agreement compatible pathway would require. With regards to LNG, while the government may see this as a bridging fuel, studies have shown that it risks carbon lock-in and stranded assets.,, Moreover, government planning relies on fossil fuels with carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technologies as a supplementary source of power, in spite of high investments costs and so far unproven technologies.
With regards to market-based mitigation approaches, South Korea’s ETS covers the power sector. Critically, however, the country’s power dispatch mechanism does not currently account for carbon pricing, which significantly impedes the ETS’ ability to reduce emissions in this sector.,
Towards a fully decarbonised power sector
To be on a 1.5°C compatible pathway would require the power sector to reach zero CO₂ emissions per kilowatt-hour by around 2040. This would be driven by a phase-out of coal by 2030 and gas between 2039 and 2047 latest. At the same time, renewable energy generation would increase rapidly, reaching up to 44% by 2030 and making up 64-96% of the power mix in 2050.
The transition from coal to renewables will have positive impact on health and employment. A recent analysis has shown that a planned unit level phase-out of coal power plants, resulting in 4.2 GW of capacity retired annually out to 2030, would lead to substantial health benefits over the planned coal schedule proposed by the government., The unit level coal phase-out could also lead to significant job creation.,