Since announcing plans for one of the world's largest offshore wind projects — the 2.5GW Southwestern Offshore wind farm — in 2010, South Korea's total installed offshore wind capacity has been firmly stuck at 5MW, from a two-turbine testbed in the coastal waters of the island of Jeju.
However, over the past six months the country's first utility-scale offshore wind farm has been taking shape, in the form of the 30MW Tamra project, also in waters around Jeju Island.
Ten 3MW turbines, made by Doosan, were installed over the summer, with grid connection and full commissioning expected to be completed over the next few months.
"Tamra is a huge step for South Korea," says Hans Rijntalder, managing director of Netherlands-based offshore-wind engineering consultancy Wind Minds, which advises on offshore wind projects throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
"It has helped the government and the industry to understand what is required to establish an offshore wind sector. They know what is needed now."
South Korea has regulatory frameworks in place for offshore wind and a sufficient incentive mechanism, consisting of renewable energy certificates. But it was the Paris COP21 UN climate-change talks that marked a turning point.
By 2030, South Korea plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% from its business-as-usual level. "There is a push from the highest levels of government," says Rijntalder.
At the Paris talks, president Park Geun-hye announced that Jeju will become a carbon-free island by 2030 replacing its entire fleet of cars with electric vehicles and meeting 100% of its energy needs through renewable-energy sources, including offshore wind.
Jeju's government is semi-autonomous. In 2012 it set up Jeju Energy Corporation (JEC) to oversee the island's commitments to becoming carbon neutral and developing its renewable-energy resources.
Korean Offshore Wind Power (KOWP) is a state-owned company set up to develop the 2.5GW Southwest Offshore wind project. The 60-80MW first phase is expected to come online by 2019. Water depth is only 8-10 metres, but the seabed is muddy.
Doosan, and potentially Hyosung, will supply turbines for the Southwestern Offshore wind project's first phase. Doosan is the engineering procurement and construction (EPC) contractor on the first phase.
Wind Minds is advising on the early feasibility stages of the project, reviewing its complete design, including where the turbines are going to be sited, the distance between them, cabling and other issues.
"It is easier to overcome issues when you have experienced them. South Korea is very cautious," says Rijntalder, "If anything, projects have been over-engineered, which is fine for testbeds, but for large projects, over-engineering adds expense. Offshore costs need to come down."
The South Korean government has invested around $200 million in various projects, high even compared with research-and-development (R&D) expenditure of mature offshore wind markets.
Examples of R&D initiatives include floating offshore wind foundations, suction bucket-type foundations, carbon-fibre offshore wind-turbine blades, as well as various grid and transmission related projects.
The second phase, which Wind Minds is also advising on, is 400MW, which will come online by 2022. When the remaining 2GW is expected to come online by has yet to be finalised, although it is likely to be before 2030.
KOWP is expected to start contracting by the end of year or early 2017. Realistically, construction will start in early 2018. Raising finance is not an issue, but South Korea, along with the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, lacks the whole logistics supply chain.
"For example, jack-up vessels - a company will need to make these, since bringing them over from Europe would be hugely expensive and virtually impossible," Rijntalder says.
"Japan has one, but South Korea could make them." He thinks vessel building will likely occur as companies start to see a more positive push from government.
Wind Minds is also investing in projects in South Korea as part of development consortiums, through its joint-venture with Korean companies Doarm Engineering and submarine-solutions specialist Haechun, for projects including the 100MW Sinchang project and extension off Jeju near Tamra. The projects are at the permitting stage.
However, in a more recent turn of events, Jeju's offshore wind projects have started to look less certain.
"JEC started a tender process, but postponed it because of heavy protests, and now there seems to be a reorganisation going on within JEC," says Rijntalder.
JEC has been preparing a tender for at least three 100MW offshore projects, including Sinchang, in Jeju's waters, with the view to adapting the Danish and Dutch systems of tendering offshore wind farms.
If it can overcome these challenges, South Korea has the makings of a formidable regional force in offshore wind.
The country has a shipbuilding and offshore oil and gas platform industry, while domestic steel maker Posco, which invested in Tamra's development, wants to mass-produce jacket foundations and develop projects in the region.
The country also has plenty of ports that could be transformed into offshore-wind hubs.
South Korea may be behind Europe's offshore wind industry, but it will learn quickly, believes Rijntalder. "There are lots of engineers. But what has been lacking is project-engineering experience, which is able to take all circumstances into account. This is where European expertise can help."
Once South Korea has more projects under its belt it will be in a stronger position to export in areas such as foundations, vessels and cabling, as well as operations and maintenance services.