South Korea’s Energy Conundrum

National Economy

The population of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is approximately 51.33 million people[1]. In 2019, 100% of the people in this East Asian country had access to electricity[2].

In 2019, South Korea’s economy was ranked 12th in the world in gross domestic product (GDP)[3]. The country’s economy is dependent on the export[4] of integrated circuits, cars, refined petroleum, passenger and cargo ships, and synthetic rubber.

Environment Policies

In 2016, South Korea signed the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to an 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a business-as-usual case by 2030[5].

In 2018, the South Korean government implemented a strategic energy plan which set the goal of generating electricity from renewable energy to 20% by 2030 and 30% to 35% by 2040.

In 2020, the Korea Electric Power Corporation used coal (35.7 %), nuclear energy (28.6 %), natural gas (26.6 %), renewable energy (5.7 %), and oil (3.4 %) to generate electricity in the country[6]. Solar, hydropower, wind, and biomass are the primary types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in South Korea.

Recent renewable energy projects in South Korea include:

  • 2,100 MW Floating Solar Project – South Korean multi-national corporation, SK Group is continuing work on the Saemangeum solar complex, which is located off the southwestern coast of the country.
  • 1,400 MW Floating Offshore Wind ProjectBritish investment company, Macquaries Group and French energy company, Total SE are continuing work on an offshore floating wind project located approximately 35 miles off the southern coast of the country. The project is forecasted to be commissioned by year-end 2022.
  • 133 MW Wind + Solar Project – In January 2021, South Korean engineering company, EPC LS Electric commissioned a hybrid wind-solar project, which is located in the southwestern region of the country.
  • 41 MW Floating Solar Project – In November 2021, South Korean engineering firm, Scotra commissioned a floating solar photovoltaic project at the Hapcheon hydropower project in the southeast region of the country.


South Korea imports virtually all fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), which fueled the generation of 65.7% of the country’s electricity in 2020. Nuclear power plants which generate zero greenhouse gas emissions is another major source of the country’s electricity. However; South Korea’s government has announced plans to close all nuclear power plants by 2050.

South Korea has limited resource potential and is struggling to achieve the government’s goal of generating 20% of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2030. Although the South Korea is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the country is faced with an energy conundrum of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without nuclear power.

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”


[1] South Korea Population (2021) –  November 25, 2021,

[2] South Korea – The World Bank Group

[3] Gross Domestic Product 2019 – World Bank DataBank

[4] The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) – South Korea

[5] Carbon Brief “Paris 2015: Tracking Country Climate Pledges”

[6] Our World In Data, South Korea:  Energy Country Profile by Hanna Ritchie and Max Roser

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