What would South Korea look like in 20 years? What could South Korea look like in 20 years? A life with hydrogen-powered cars to create a greener country is currently in plan for South Korea. An ambitious roadmap has been recently drawn up and the country is in for a drastic change that may or may not be for the better. In just a few decades, vehicles on the streets of South Korea will look very differently from those that roam the streets today.
On January 17, the South Korean government laid out a clear plan to foster a hydrogen economy during a government-led event at Ulsan. A joint private and public sector committee comprising different environmental ministries and companies in related fields, primarily Hyundai Motors, has been launched to put this plan into action. With the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade being the chairperson, the long-talked about plan is finally starting to be officially implemented.
The ultimate goal is to produce 6.2 million fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) and to build 1,200 charging stations in South Korea by 2040, boosting the hydrogen economy and, hopefully, securing a leading role in hydrogen technology worldwide. FCEVs are a major global trend with many secondary benefits, making this large-scale plan a plausible one if it goes accordingly.
Since only a few countries have made advancement in hydrogen technology, it is highly anticipated to have South Korea as a leading nation that dominates the market worldwide. “The hydrogen economy will bring revolutionary change to the country’s industrial structure and could be the one and only chance to secure a new growth engine,” stated President Moon Jae-in as he attended the event, showing anticipation toward the new project. South Korea currently relies on imports for 95 percent of its fuel energy needs; therefore, adopting a hydrogen economy would allow the country to turn the tables. Once a good portion of energy is supplied by hydrogen, a large amount of money would be saved, further allowing South Korea to become a leader in exports in this field.
Not only could this plan pave the way to direct economic benefits, there are a lot of indirect ways in which the new hydrogen economy could strengthen South Korea's economy. Part of the long-term plan that the government laid out was the vision towards creating more jobs in the industry. To accommodate for the loss of jobs in the fuel industry, the government is looking towards creating 420,000 jobs and 43 trillion won in economic value added each year by 2040. The only remaining issue would be whether the economic benefits of the hydrogen economy can outweigh
the large amount of money invested.
It is clear that the government took not only the economic potential but also the environmental aspects of pursuing a hydrogen economy into consideration. While the demand for energy is growing, the raw materials to sustain the fossil fuel economy are diminishing and cannot be replenished as quickly as they are being consumed. According to the roadmap laid out, the government believes that hydrogen, a readily available source of energy, is a much better renewable alternative to fossil fuel.
Emission of greenhouse gases has been cited as a major global concern. However, when hydrogen
is combined with oxygen, the only by-products are water and heat, making it a significantly cleaner source of energy. In comparison to nuclear energy, which has also been considered an option by the government as an alternative to the carbon economy, hydrogen is a lot safer since it is non-toxic. There has been no consensus as to whether nuclear energy is a sustainable, safe form of energy, which is why the government decided to abandon nuclear energy and opt for a hydrogen economy.
Just a Dream?
Yet, debate continues to surround whether hydrogen is truly capable of providing an eco-friendly, highly efficient energy source. Although hydrogen is abundant in the environment, there are concerns on how to extract hydrogen safely. The long-term plan may backfire if the hydrogen is not obtained properly, producing a number of monetary concerns. There are other renewable energy sources, all of which have already emerged as an alternative to the carbon economy, such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy. Whether a hydrogen economy is the best option for the country remains a question that has not been answered at the time of the government laying out its elaborate plan.
In addition, a hydrogen economy would require a new infrastructure in order to handle storage and distribution, and an abundance of electricity generated. The new plan towards creating a hydrogen economy does address this problem very lightly by simply stating that it would drastically increase the number of refueling stations, but some may say that this is too optimistic. There are also arguments that South Korea is focusing only on the auto industry. In order to push for a hydrogen industry, a more comprehensive work has to be carried out, which would cost even more money. There seems to be no end to this investment, entailing a higher level of risk.
The future plan for an unknown world of hydrogen is a huge leap forward and requires years of effort, money, and other considerations. Should the plan go wrong along the way, who is to take responsibility? With a plan that is stretched over decades, there are also concerns on continuity as a new administration is bound to replace the old in the future.
Although the current plan for a hydrogen economy seems a bit farfetched, the South Korean government should, nevertheless, pursue the path they are determined to take. At a glance, there are numerous benefits that a hydrogen economy could bring, and it certainly looks like a brighter future than the current carbon economy. The problem lies on whether reality is as simple as theory. Critics remain skeptical about whether a hydrogen economy is the optimal future that South Korea ought to be moving towards, but there is no turning back and adjustments will just have to be made along the way.