Thursday, December 27, 2012

South Korea in danger of power outages

With much of South Korea's nuclear power now off-line, and the country dipping into record cold temperatures, there is a risk of rolling blackouts, which could be a real danger for a lot of people (extremes of heat and cold tend to disproportionately affect those on the fringe, especially socioeconomically or chronologically).

From the Wall Street Journal:
South Korea set a new record for power consumption on Wednesday, the third consecutive day of very cold temperatures and busiest work-wise after the lead-in and celebration of Christmas.

And the country’s energy monitors were forced to warn that power outages might occur because demand had surpassed the limit that the government considers safe.

Demand hit 76.58 million kilowatts at 11:01 a.m., surpassing the record of 75.17 million kilowatts that was set eight days ago on Dec. 18. South Korea had 79.16 million kilowatts of power available.

The Korea Power Exchange, which monitors supply and demand, makes the information available in real time on its Web site in Korean here and in English here.

Wednesday’s demand peak was higher than the energy consumed on Sept. 15, 2011, when the government resorted to rolling blackouts for several hours because an unusual surge of late summer heat propelled demand for air conditioners.

On that day, electricity demand peaked at 67.3 million kilowatts. But the country had supply of just over 70 million kilowatts, a figure that was later revised downward to 67.5 million kilowatts, meaning South Korea came dangerously close to a total blackout.

That near-disaster led to the resignation of the country’s commerce minister, who is in charge of energy issues, and sharp criticism from President Lee Myung-bak.
The WSJ doesn't really go into it, but South Korea has for quite some time been heavily reliant on nuclear power, but there have been literal cracks in the system that have caused alarm, as well as other issues that have led to a reduction in power generation right now.



  1. Scary, given that South Korea has four seasons.

  2. Not so much scary, as appropriate, given the first impression one receives on entering this country - that nothing works as it should - the escalators at Busan Station; the long automated walkways on the Seoul Metro; etc.

    1. Woe is the disgruntled expat in Korea. Sometimes, they turn off those things to save electricity and sometimes, they don't work. As if everything in Western countries like the U.S. is state of the art. That is not the impression I got of Korea when I go to Inchon airport or many other places, but some people will always see the dark side of everything.

    2. I'm traveling so didn't reply earlier, but I concur with itissaid. Actually most visitors' firstt impression of Korea is Inchon airport, which people rave rave about.

      But it woulld be a good idea to change the "out of order" signs for when the subway vending machines have been turned off.

  3. Frankly I don't notice public facilities in Japan being turned off to save electricity, or because they don't work (at least in Kyushu), notwithstanding the effects of the recent tsunami and nuclear power shutdowns. My experience of Japan is that things there just work fine.
    Personally, I am of the opinion that public facilities continue to be turned off in Korea simply because of institutional arrogance - that the people who use them are regarded as an administrative inconvenience, and they can basically go to hell. My point about Busan Station is that it is a relatively major gateway into Korea (because of its role as a KTX mainline terminal and the adjacent International Ferry Port), and one would expect facilities there to be well-presented for international visitors. As regards the Seoul Metro, passengers are frequently expected to walk great distances, for example to connect between lines at a station, e.g. Sindang.
    I don't find Seoul to be at all "user-friendly" - try and find a seat in a public place that enjoys good sun and that is out of the wind. There is such a disjunction between inhabitants' pride and rhetoric about Seoul - and for that matter Korea - and the reality one encounters, if one just takes off the rose-tinted glasses for a minute (and smells the air).
    I really believe that urban design and practice in this country is impoverished, and greater attention needs to be given to essential habitability and urban delight.
    P.S. Are you aware that Ampontan has entered the great blog in the sky?

  4. Of course, I mean the Great Blogosphere in the Sky - RIP Ampontan.

  5. Korea is not Japan and neither is America. If you want to be a whiny kvetchpat, that is your choice. It really is YOUR interpretation of events and not a true reflection of facts. You have not spoken with authorities so you cannot say why they are doing what they are doing. Go live in Japan if it is so much better. Korea could care less about foreigners like you who complain about things that are not worth complaining about. If you want Koreans to use more electricity, why don't you foot the bill? Try to understand something before you criticize it because all you do is show your own ignorance. If you think turning off electricity is an institutional "fuck you", then you have more serious problems than being dissatisfied with Korea. I, personally, have not noticed much inconvenience unless I go to shabby parts of Korea. Most of the time things are not running because they lack the funds or they are trying to save money. Do you know how much electricity it would take to power Busan Station for all hours of operation? Busan is the second largest city in Korea, right after Seoul. So the authorities should power the escalator for the 15+ hours a day that it runs even during off-peak times when it is used by 10% of the normal passengers? I wouldn't say that it is institutional arrogance, but prudence, that keeps them from doing this. I would say that you are showing your own arrogance by expecting Korea to live up to your own unfounded and unrealistic expectations. Korea should cater to kvetchpats like you who can see nothing good about the country and misinterpret the most benign things as a "fuck you"? Please. Go take your lemons and make some lemonade.

    I'm sure there were hundreds of other people at Busan Station the same time you were having to deal with the shut-off escalators. But they aren't bitching about it like you. They have probably forgotten about it and are just enjoying their lives. A lot of the things you complain about, Koreans deal with in stride. And if there really is something to bitch about, you can bet they will do so. Just because you INTERPRET something as a "fuck you" doesn't make it so. That's the problem with kvetchpats like you. You don't try to understand Korea or the people. You criticize them as being unable to think for themselves when you yourself don't take responsibility for your own thoughts and opinions. How do you KNOW that the authorities are saying "fuck you" with the shut-off of the elevators? Maybe they are, but what a funny way to do that as I could think of a much better way to say that like increasing prices.

    You don't know SHIT so don't act like you do. Korea does not have to give a flying fuck about what kvetchpats like you think because you really don't have the good will to give Korea the understanding that you expect and demand from them. What are YOU doing to make things better in Korea? "I shouldn't have to. I'm a foreigner that can just piss and complain and demand that Korea cater to my expectations without putting ANY of my own effort in trying to understand the country."

    Go write a letter if it means that much to you. If it was important to have a convenient trip, you should have taken the responsibility to determine that it would be so by arranging for shuttle services, etc. If you have too much luggage, go take a plane. It really is not that expensive to take a domestic flight in Korea. Escalators exist to speed up foot traffic and NOT to be run ALL THE TIME, wasting energy. Korea should be applauded for looking for ways to conserve instead of wasting energy for lazy people like you. Who the heck takes a subway with a lot of luggage?

    1. I meant train, not subway :p So it should read, "Who the heck takes a train with a lot of luggage?" I suppose you could, but it makes no sense when transferring from an international flight.

  6. For itissaid, a “true reflection of facts” is whatever his opinion is on an issue, and dissent should not be tolerated. itissaid is all-knowing, because he knows full well that I have not “spoken with the authorities”, when in fact I have on occasion made representations on urban design matters to those in power. To make a critical observation is not permitted, as that must be a sign of ignorance; but he does not hesitate to criticize me. Again, he presumes I refer to off-peak use of the Busan Station escalators, when I was referring to my experience in daytime hours, on a number of occasions over several years, and when returning from abroad, by ferry not plane, and with heavy luggage and fatigue, I do tend to notice such lack of critical amenity. ‘Prudence” apparently is now to be the rationalization for inefficiency and incompetence – again, users can simply “go to hell”. As for Korea not living up to my “unfounded and unrealistic expectations”, it just seems to me that if individuals continually exclaim about how wonderful their country and society is, it is not unrealistic to expect them to put up or shut up – like it or not, Korea is part of the modern world, and it is not unreasonable to expect some degree of public amenity, and that expensive resources actually work, and are not just empty gestures, a la NK (so for example, I am a keen supporter of the local development of riverside parkland and walkways/cycleways – which is something that Korea is doing right; but the Four Rivers Project, which I have supported (in contrast with fellow whining kvetchpats), it now seems may cause serious environmental problems; and the bellicose rhetoric on TV makes it appear that simply thru that development Koreans have now solved the energy crisis and pollution problem, and now truly live in harmony with nature). As for my not “trying to understand Korea or the people”, I would have thought that the opposite was true – I genuinely seek to understand why on the one hand Koreans so glorify their culture, and on the other, why it is so empty (or if you prefer, why do I find it so empty)? It seems to have become shallow, and based almost exclusively on the imitation of others, with little indigenous creativity (I could argue that even the superficial “Gangnam style” imitates the Mongol hordes); and desperately lacking in authenticity and any sense of essential reality (with the exception of the shamans). Further, I think this disjunction is really important, because it has critical effects on, for example, the environment, which I observe to be rapidly degrading; and likely to be related to the high divorce and suicide rate. [In fact, I see it (that disjunction) as a structural characteristic, that firstly is so (and is not mere subjective delusion on my part), and secondly it exists for particular (partly historical) reasons, and these can perhaps be evinced; and thirdly it is objectively harmful, and a diseased state, that can in potential be redressed.] As for my not “taking responsibility for my own thoughts and opinions”, firstly, I do think they are my responsibility, not that of others; and secondly, by actually addressing these sorts of issues, I do seek to take a fundamental existential responsibility for what I experience and observe, and for the way in which I live, and which I don’t find by mindlessly regurgitating a social ethos I find shallow and false, and evidence of an unexamined life. As for my not doing anything to make things better in Korea, how is itissaid in a position to determine whether that is true or not? He can’t know that; rather, his pretense of being all-knowing surfaces, that he will not confront. He reveals in his writing irrationality and hatred of any comment that does not support his world-view, and I am unclear as to why I even bother to respond. That must be it – I have taken his advice, and gone and written a letter, as it meant that much to me. And has he found his sheltered seat in the sun, yet?

    1. You didn't mention all of this in your reply, so you can't blame me for going on WHAT WAS WRITTEN. Anyhow, it is your CHOICE how to interpret Korea. Readers can decide whether it is based on objective facts or not. It's not.


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