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South Korea's Plan to Have World's First Carbon-Free Island

Energy
Wind turbines on Gapado Island. Channel NewsAsia

A small island south of South Korea is working for the title of world's first carbon-free island. And it's pretty close to accomplishing just that.

Gapado Island, home to 177 people, relies mainly on solar and wind power for electricity. Two wind power generators have been installed on the island, which produce 500 kilowatts of electricity, Jin Myoung-hwan, head of Gapado, told Channel NewsAsia. Forty-eight of the 97 houses on the island have solar generators installed.


"As we have electricity generated from the wind and solar generators, we do not need to use diesel generators, relying completely on solar and wind power," Myoung-hwan said.

Gapado Island.

The installation of the solar panels on residential homes was mainly covered by the Jeju Special Self-Governing body. Jeju Island, home to 600,000 people, hopes to use Gapado as a model to become carbon-free itself by 2030, Channel NewsAsia reported. Making Gapado Island carbon-free is the first of three phases in the Carbon Free Island Jeju by 2030 project.

The Jeju Special Self-Governing body has spent more than USD$100 million to help Gapado become carbon-free. With this help, residents aren't strapped with the costs of installing solar panels on their homes—which cost roughly 12 million won (USD$12,000). Instead, they pay just a portion of the total amount.

Gapado resident Kim Bu-jeon paid only 10 percent of the total cost, according to Channel NewsAsia.

“Before having these solar panels, I used to pay about 40,000-50,000 won (USD$33-USD$42) for electricity if I use the air conditioner and other appliances," he said. “After installing them, I now pay about 9,000 won if I use a lot of electricity, and about 8,000 or 7,000 won if I don't use that much."

Solar panel on a house in Gapado Island. Photo credit: Channel NewsAsia

The island produces more energy than its residents consume. The extra energy produced is stored in smart meters on the electricity grid. The stored power can then be used on days when weather conditions disrupt solar and wind power generation. Lee Young-suk, the island's microgrid center manager, told Channel NewsAsia that the center is like a giant battery pack for the island.

"Let's say the entire village consumes around 150 kilowatts," he said. "The wind generators produce around three times the power used by the households. If the wind generators produce 500 kilowatts of electricity and store them, we can supply sufficient electricity to the village even if the wind generation is halted."

Further helping the island to become carbon-free is the absence of cars. The most common modes of transportation are walking and cycling. There are only nine cars on the island, four of which are electric, Inhabitat reported.

Carbon Free Island Jeju by 2030 plan

Jeju Island currently receives 5 percent of its total energy from renewables, according to Renewable Energy Futures for UNESCO Sites. The carbon-free plan will replace fossil fuels with wind—harnessed from land and sea turbines—solar and hydropower.

The project plans to expand wind turbine capacity to 2.35 gigawatts—a 15-fold increase from the turbines' current output of 156 megawatts.

There will also be an increased presence of electric cars and smart homes on the island. Jeju Island plans to increase the number of electric cars from today's 852 units to 377,000 by 2030. Subsidies for EV usage will be available for residents as well as an EV battery lease program, according to The Korea Herald. Roughly 15,000 rapid-charging stations are expected to be operating by 2030. There are only 79 stations now.

Switching to renewable energy sources is expected to create around 40,000 jobs, Renewable Energy Futures for UNESCO Sites said.

Jeju Island's switch to carbon-free energy is being implemented in three phases, according to Renewable Energy Futures for UNESCO Sites:

  • First phase: to make Gapado Island carbon free, turning it into a laboratory and model for the Jeju Island initiative.
  • Second phase: to raise the share of new and renewable energy in the energy market to 50 percent by 2020.
  • Third phase: to make Jeju Island carbon-free and a green-growth city by 2030.

Jeju Island partnered with LG Corp. in 2015 to work toward this goal, The Korea Herald reported. The project is expected to cost 6 trillion won (USD$5.4 billion).

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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