Asia Business Channel

South Korea plans to build the world's largest floating solar power plant

A floating solar power facility.

The South Korean government announced plans to build the world's largest floating solar farm on a lake next to Saemangeum, a reclaimed area on the west coast that is approximately 180 kilometers from Seoul. Saemangeum is a 400-square-kilometer area reclaimed from the sea, located in North Jeolla Province and is home to the world's longest seawall at 33.9 kilometers.

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) said in a public announcement on July 18 that it has approved a project to build a 2.1 gigawatt (GW) solar power plant on Saemangeum Lake.

Based upon initial assessments, the proposed floating solar plant will cover 30 square kilometers (11.6 square miles) of the lake, and is expected to produce electricity for 1 million households. The solar plant will also be close to the proposed site of the Saemangeum airport and can supply electricity to the airport as needed.

There is still doubt whether the solar plant and the airport will be built. In the case of the solar plant, environmentalists are protesting that it will destroy the environment and inhibit migratory birds from using the lake on their flights across Asia-Pacific. In the case of the airport, there are other airports in the region that are only 1-hour from the proposed site of the new airport and many people think it will be a waste of tax payers money.

If the solar facility is built based upon the current specifications, it will be 14 times the size of the world's largest floating solar farm in China’s Huainan province that has a 150 MW capacity. The new facility would also produce more than 160% of the capacity of all floating solar facilities that were built around the world in 2018.

Proponents of the project say that its completion will bring South Korea closer to its goals for the use of renewable energy. The government’s energy plans include increasing renewable energy from 6% of the country’s energy needs today to 20% by 2030.

In order to meet these goals, the government has published a roadmap, which calls for adding 30.8 GW of solar energy and 16.5 GW of wind power by 2030 so that the country will have a total renewable energy capacity of 63.8 GW by 2030. If the renewable energy goals are met, the government expects that 1 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and more than 270 tons of fine dust will be eliminated.

An additional goal that the government has identified is an initative to improve the durability and quality of domestically produced solar panels and systems through the project. The solar power farm will require more than 5 million solar power modules and the government is earmarking $2.13 billion USD market for domestic solar facility and equipment producers and will also grant tax credits of $300 million USD for research and development funds.

Shim Jin-soo, head of the renewable energy division at MOTIE, said, “Construction of the floating solar farm on Saemangeum Lake requires about $3.92 billion USD of private investment funds. Shim also said that the project “will create 1.60 million construction jobs” but others claim these figures are too high and that only 200,000 jobs will be created.

At this stage, the government has begun its regulatory review processes, including environmental effects evaluation and public water usage projections. On the basis that the government receives go-aheads in all areas, construction of the facility will begin in late-2020 and the plant is expected to come online in 2023.

A floating wind power facility under construction

The governments announcement of the new Saemangeum floating solar project came only a few days after Equinor, a Norwegian oil, gas, and wind company, announced that it would partner with the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) and the Korean power company Korea East-West Power (EWP) to develop a 200 MW floating offshore wind project off the southeast coast of South Korea.

The floating wind farm will be located close to the KNOC-operated Donghae natural gas field, off the coast of Ulsan in South Korea. The next step in the project is to carry out a feasibility study for the wind farm, including use of the Donghae 1 platform as a substation for a possible wind farm.

Pending the results of the feasibility study, the consortium projects that construction for the floating offshore wind farm will begin in 2022, with project completion in 2024 and a tie-in to the national electric grid in either 2024 or 2025.

Stephen Bull, Senior Vice President of New Energy Solutions at Equinor said that, “We are very pleased to be member of the partnership involved in realizing the first floating offshore wind farm in Asia. “If we succeed in realizing the project, the Donghae floating offshore wind project will be the world’s biggest floating wind farm, more than twice the size of Hywind Tampen on the Norwegian continental shelf. A floating offshore wind farm of this size will help further increase the competitiveness of floating offshore wind power in the future.”




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