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Toward a hydrogen economy

Hydrogen energy should be selected as the national energy source.
Nov 17,2017
It’s been a year since the new climate mechanism of the Paris Agreement took effect. Korea’s goal is to reduce 310 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions — about 37 percent of the business-as-usual (BAU) emission of 850 million tons — by 2030. To achieve that goal, the expansion of renewable energy will play a significant role. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy devised its “Implementation Plan for the 3020 Renewable Energy” to increase the portion of renewable energy to 20 percent of the total power generation by 2030.

Since renewable energy largely depends on natural conditions, stable power generation can hardly be expected. The 3020 Plan is mainly based on solar and wind power. But as solar energy varies depending on incoming solar radiation and meteorological conditions, it cannot be produced for 24 hours a day. Wind power is also intermittent.

Both energy sources have innate limits to replace the power generated from nuclear energy or fossil fuels. It is also hard to be used for peak load power generation that responds to electricity demands immediately. Therefore, in order to attain the goal, it is necessary to utilize hydrogen energy to create a storage system for the surplus from intermittent energy sources, in addition to directly using the energy that comes from solar and wind power.

Korea needs to pursue a “hydrogen economy,” not only to implement the 3020 plan to increase the portion of renewable energy to 20 percent, but also to reach the goal of introducing new climate mechanisms to reduce BAU by 37 percent. If the use of hydrogen energy is extended to fuel cells for power generation, transport and buildings in addition to simple storage, Korea will find an easier path to reach the greenhouse gas emission reduction goal. Here, “hydrogen economy society” refers to an economic structure where hydrogen energy is produced, stored and transported to be used in various applications.

At present, there is not much of a technological obstacle for Korea to pursue a hydrogen economy society. Korea’s hydrogen-energy-related technology has matured to the developed world’s level. The problem is whether the government has the will to pursue the policy. Many developed countries are already pioneering the path to hydrogen economy.

Developed countries like Japan and Germany have paid attention to the flexibility of hydrogen energy that encompasses fuel, power generation and energy storage. They are putting national efforts on legal and systematic preparation, the expansion of hydrogen-charging infrastructure and technology development. Despite Korea’s advanced technology level, there has not been a national-level picture aside from local metropolitan governments’ discussions for regional industrial promotion. Hyundai Motor developed hydrogen vehicles before Japan, but failed to commercialize them.

Now, Korea needs to aggressively move toward a hydrogen-based energy system. Most of all, hydrogen-related system improvement, expansion of distribution subsidies, empirical project for future application, technology development for hydrogen cars, charging stations and fuel cells all need to be harmoniously promoted. The following need to be kept in mind.

First, to improve the system, hydrogen energy should be selected as the national energy source and be reflected in the mid- and long-term supply plan. Moreover, a law on hydrogen energy industry promotion needs to be enacted to establish a mid- and long-term plan for utilization and distribution of hydrogen energy. A price system and stable supply to promote hydrogen exchange should be devised. It requires national-level management.

Second, regarding hydrogen energy supply assistance, government subsidies are allotted to only 130 hydrogen cars in next year’s budget. Considering the schedule to introduce a second-generation hydrogen car model next year, the budget needs to be drastically increased. Moreover, the subsidies to install hydrogen charging stations are limited to local autonomous governments, discouraging entries from the private sector. The assistance for installing and operating the charging stations should also be provided to private companies. The authorities may want to consider including hydrogen in the renewable fuel standard (RFS) requirement to expand hydrogen energy use.

Third, various empirical projects to distribute hydrogen energy storage systems (HESS) should be promoted. Experts are concerned that when the renewable energy exceeds 10 percent of total power generation by mid-2020, the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy may lead to challenges in electricity supply. To supplement the potential limits, distribution of HESS, which allows mid- and long-term storage, is essential. Empirical projects on water electrolysis, hydrogen storage and fuel cell system are necessary. Also, a study on large buses and trucks with high greenhouse gas emission should be conducted, and hydrogen buses and trucks need to be expanded.

Finally, continued support for technology development of hydrogen vehicles, hydrogen charging stations and fuel cells needs to be provided. If not, the low profitability of each stage in the project would aggravate business value and add burden to the buyers.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 29

*The author is the head of the Korea Hydrogen and New Energy Society and the president of the Green Technology Center.

Oh In-hwan