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* Seoul pools KEPCO, Samsung, others in renewables drive
* Sees batteries, smart grids opening new global business
* Questions over future of clean energy in U.S., China
* S. Korea seeks to double home green power supply by 2021
By Jane Chung
SEOUL, Dec 14 South Korea aims to vault from
laggard to leader in the renewable energy industry, as Seoul
prepares to hook the country's tech giants up to nearly $40
billion in public funds in a bold plan to become a new global
leader in green power.
Amid questions over the future of clean energy in the United
States under President-elect Donald Trump, as well as China's
appetite for cutting fossil fuel reliance, Seoul is accelerating
into battery and 'smart' grid technology - vital to store and
transmit power whose generation changes with the weather.
Fresh from unveiling a 42 trillion won ($37 billion) support
package, Seoul said last month it now aims to double the amount
of green energy it produces by 2025 - 10 years ahead of previous
plans. As well as cutting overwhelming reliance on coal and
nuclear power, the plan aims to tap into the prowess of Korean
tech leaders like Samsung - previously focused on consumer
electronics - to build a major new export industry.
"South Korea definitely has the potential when it comes to
clean tech because of government incentives but also the already
established companies there," said Vishal Sapru, Program
Manager, Power Quality/Power Supplies at consultancy Frost &
Sullivan. "They are strong contenders when it comes to
utility-scale storage...They have the bandwidth to meet
The push by Asia's 4th-largest economy comes as global
climate change treaty commitments dovetail with a race among the
world's tech firms for new revenue streams while growth in goods
like smartphones slows. The International Energy Agency now sees
28 percent of the world's power being generated from renewable
sources by 2021, up from 23 percent in 2015.
THE KEPCO CONNECTION
Firms from General Electric to Europe's ABB
are eyeing growth in smart grids and batteries - and have a head
start. But by combining the power transmission know-how of its
state utilities with private sector expertise in batteries and
power controls, South Korea is well placed to gain ground,
industry executives say.
"One of Korea's strengths is IT technology, particularly
semiconductors and battery," said Lee Jeong-min, a senior
manager of energy storage systems sales team at Hyosung Corp
. "If we link them together with new energy business,
we can catch up."
Hyosung is among several private firms partnering with state
utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) to develop
smart grid and energy storage systems at home and in
KEPCO is now working on some 40 overseas energy and power
distribution projects. It agreed in November with the U.S. state
of Virginia to develop 10 energy projects, echoing similar deals
it has agreed with Canada's Ontario state as well as Dubai.
"We play our role in operating the power grid and leading
new businesses, while private sector partners do their part by
making products and supplying them," Hwang Woohyun, vice
president of KEPCO, told Reuters in an interview.
BOOST FOR SAMSUNG SDI
To help extend Korean companies' global reach, KEPCO plans
to invest 8.3 trillion won in collaborative programmes by 2020.
Meanwhile partner Samsung SDI is eying 3 trillion
won in investments on battery development by 2020.
LG Chem is also bullish on energy storage as
solar panel costs drop and government support rises.
"This year energy storage system revenue is expected to grow
over 60 percent to 270 billion won and to increase further next
year, about 80 percent to more than 500 billion won," Kang
Chang-Beom, LG Chem vice president said in a recent conference
For SDI, part of the Samsung empire and the world's top
maker of handset batteries, the government push offers a way to
help it further expand into energy storage systems.
That could help SDI not only sidestep slowing smartphone
growth: as the supplier of batteries to Samsung Electronics Co's
fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 handset, it has been hit
hard by the scrapping of the device.
($1 = 1,167.1800 won)
(Reporting by Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Nina Chestney
in LONDON; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)