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South Korea Greenlights World’s Largest Floating Solar Plant

July 22, 2019, 3:01 PM

South Korea’s new, multibillion-dollar renewable energy project along the coast of the Yellow Sea will be the world’s largest floating solar power plant, using about 5.25 million solar panels.

Construction of the 4.6 trillion won ($3.9 billion) project is slated to begin during the second half of 2020, after the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy officially approved it July 19.

The solar plant will be built inside the Saemangeum seawall in Jeonbuk province and will supply power to about 1 million households, with a combined capacity of 2.1 gigawatts. It also is expected to annually reduce South Korea’s hazardous fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, dust by about 273 metric tons and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1 million metric tons, the ministry said.

In the past, solar projects built on land have faced significant opposition in South Korea. Citizens complained about the loss of forest and farmland, leaving developers no choice but to consider ponds, lagoons, and other bodies of water, according to Yang Geon-shik, an official at the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency. Developers at Saemangeum will spend an estimated 1.1 trillion won on 300,000 floating devices that will keep the solar panels above water.

Pioneering Development

The project is part of the government’s greater pledge to achieve 30.8 gigawatts of solar energy by 2030 and to have renewables supply 35% of the country’s total energy by 2040. Currently, about 8% of South Korea’s energy supply comes from renewables.

“Land-based solar power plants are being used around the world, but nobody is installing them on water,” Yang told Bloomberg Environment. South Korea “is the pioneer of this technique. The market for this is going to rise, and we will have the know-how to sell this technique overseas.”

Choosing water over land can also be cost-efficient, according to Choi Jae-hong, an official at the Renewable Energy Division of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

“It’s difficult to build solar power plants on land because there is high demand to use it for [other developments]. If we seek high-demand areas, we need to buy up those places first,” said Choi. “Currently, we’re trying to secure locations that aren’t high in demand so as to not waste any resources.”

South Korea plans for private investors to cover the entirety of the estimated cost of the Saemangeum floating power plant along the Yellow Sea, which is located between Korea and China. Development officials at the Saemangeum Development and Investment Agency will select investors based on an undisclosed set of internal criteria, according to Choi, who said that Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), is so far the only chosen investor.

The floating solar plant isn’t the only renewable energy project in the works. Last October, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced a 3 gigawatt land-based solar project in the Saemangeum area, along with a 1 gigawatt offshore wind farm.

“The beginning of a renewable energy project in Saemangeum will mark a groundbreaking turning point to enhance the global competitiveness of Korea’s renewable energy industry,” Moon said at the time.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kelly Kasulis in Seoul at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Jean Fogarty at jfogarty@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com