South Korea Continues to Rely Heavily on Coal as an Energy Source

Spotlight Activity: South Korea Continues to Rely Heavily on Coal as an Energy Source

According to US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s report, South Korea ranked the fourth largest importer of coal next to China, India, and Japan. Considering the domestic market size, it would be fair to say that South Korea is more heavily dependent on imported coal compared to its giant-size neighboring economies such as China and Japan.  In 2017, South Korea’s primary energy consumption was composed as follows: 44% from petroleum (and other liquids), 29% from coal, 14% from natural gas, 11% from nuclear, and 2% from renewable sources.

South Korea’s energy consumption is mostly dependent on imports and its coal imports have been rising recently as domestic production has shrunken. Australia and Indonesia are the two largest sources of imported coal to South Korea: 33% of total South Korean coal imports were from Australia and 28% from Indonesia respectively in 2017. Russia, Canada, and South Africa are other important sources.

Coal consumption in South Korea is used mainly for industrial production and power generation: 60% of coal consumption is for power generation at thermal power plants, and 39% is for industrial purposes. Power generation by coal has been gradually increasing over time: in 2017, 52.4% of power produced in South Korea was from coal-fired power plants while 33.5% from nuclear energy, 11.4% from LNG, and 1.6% from hydro.

The current Moon Jae-in administration’s policies are summarized in the 8th Basic Plan for Electricity Supply and Demand published in December 2017. According to the plan, South Korea will shut down ten aged coal-fired power plants by 2022 and plans to transform another six coal-fired power plants, including Dangjin Eco Power, by converting those to LNG-fired ones. To this end, the government plans to reduce the cost gap between coal and LNG power generation by reflecting environmental costs such as greenhouse gas emission rights transaction costs, and to further adjust the tax rates and tax rates of individual companies. Also, it plans to temporarily stop the operation of aged (over 30 years) coal-fired plants in spring when the level of fine dust (such as PM2.5) goes up.


Status: Falling Behind

South Korea’s heavy dependence on coal, especially coal power generation, is a serious cause of air pollution and against its international pledge to fight against climate change. LNG power generation cannot be an ideal solution either because it is also an imported source and another type of fossil fuel that is not carbon-free.

Take Action

We, Climate Scorecard, would like to recommend South Korea to drastically reduce its power generation by coal. Coal power generation is a major culprit of air pollution and climate change. Replacing coal power generation by LNG power generation cannot be an ideal solution because LNG is another imported source of power and it is not a carbon-free resource either. A balanced mixture between renewable and nuclear energy will be more helpful when tackling energy security and air pollution issues that have been increasingly getting more serious in South Korea.

Send Action Alert Message to:

Minister Yunmo Sung

Mr. Young-jun Ju

Director of Office of Energy and Resources

Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy

Tel. +82-44-203-5700

Address. 402 Hannuri-daero, Sejong-si, 30118, Republic of Korea

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