(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 18)

Myth of endless growth Shift focus to improving quality of life starting with power sector With the conclusion of the general elections, the government is expected to unveil several contentious policies, including electricity price hikes, which have been deliberately postponed until now. The 11th Basic Plan on Electricity Demand and Supply (BPE) is also one of them. The 11th BPE is a biennial administrative blueprint outlining the trajectory and components of energy policy for the next 15 years. Ahead of the government's draft release, numerous concerns have been raised. These include apprehensions about the construction of additional nuclear power plants, which pose increased risks to our society, the expansion of fossil fuel-fired power plants, exacerbating the climate crisis, and the inclusion of small modular reactors (SMRs), which are still fraught with uncertainty and are therefore deemed unfit for inclusion. However, before we get to those concerns, there is a critical question that our society mu st confront at this point first: How sustainable is the assumption of perpetual growth in electricity demand? In 2022, Germany's electricity demand was 0.88 times that of Korea's. This is surprising considering that in the same year, Germany's GDP was 2.4 times larger than Korea's, and its population was 1.6 times larger. Despite being renowned as a leading manufacturing powerhouse, Germany's power demand was not greater, but smaller than that of Korea. Moreover, in 2020, Korea's total power consumption exceeded that of Germany, and this gap has continued to widen every year since then. Over the past 15 years (2007-2022), Korea has witnessed a 51 percent surge in electricity demand, paralleling a 43 percent increase in GDP. It has long been common knowledge that the more a country's economy develops, the more electricity it uses. Conversely, Germany has experienced a 13 percent reduction in electricity demand over the same period, despite a robust 19 percent growth in GDP. In absolute terms, Germany's GDP has grown more than that of Korea's, even while reducing electricity consumption. This divergence challenges conventional wisdom, as other advanced economies -- including the U.K., Japan and France -- have similarly managed to curtail their electricity consumption while sustaining economic progress. In order to reduce the use of fossil fuels that exacerbate the climate crisis, electrification -- the replacement of fossil coal, oil and gas with electricity in all sectors, including industry, transportation, and buildings -- must proceed, and carbon-free power sources must be expanded. This is the direction of most countries, not just Korea. But advanced industrialized countries are electrifying while reducing overall electricity consumption. Even in Germany, where electricity demand has decreased, the cumulative number of electric vehicles registered in 2022 was 1.89 million, five times more than Korea's 360,000. The number of electric vehicles is increasing while overall electricity demand is decreasing. I t means Germany has put much effort into effective electricity demand management, power conservation and energy efficiency. Given the diminishing electricity demand in advanced economies, this raises skepticism regarding the perpetual escalation of electricity demand forecasts entrenched in Korean governmental plans. In particular, under the national 2050 carbon neutrality scenario, it is anticipated that power consumption will more than double compared to current levels. This underscores the urgent need for a critical reassessment of existing trajectories and the exploration of viable alternatives. Regardless of whatever the power sources are, if electricity demand continues to expand, then a transition to a 100 percent carbon-free electricity society will become an unattainable goal. In other words, we will fail to decarbonize our power sector and this means that we will be more vulnerable to a more catastrophic climate crisis. As the Club of Rome warned over 50 years ago, and as more people in our socie ty now agree, the pursuit of infinite growth within a finite global ecosystem is not possible. Even if we replace fossil fuel-powered plants with sustainable power production, including solar panels and wind farms, we will not be able to solve the climate crisis if demand for electricity keeps increasing. Thus, in formulating the new Basic Plan for Electricity supply and demand for the ensuing 15 years, the government must prioritize strategies to either curtail future electricity demand or, at the very least, attenuate the pace of its ascent. It is incumbent upon us to debunk the myth of endless growth and refocus our attention on enhancing the quality and well-being of people's lives, starting with the power sector. Source: Yonhap News Agency