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Established industry spots a growing need -- South Korea spies opportunities

With the second phase of the 98 MW Gangwon wind farm completed, South Korea's cumulative wind capacity stood at 175 MW from 118 turbines by the end of 2006, up from 119 MW at the end of the previous year. Comprising 49 Vestas 2 MW machines, Gangwon is the country's largest wind project so far and for now it looks set to remain so for some time -- no projects of a similar scale have since been proposed. Moreover, while the government has set a target to increase renewables use from today's 2.28% to 5% by 2011 and 9% by 2030, its preference appears to be for renewables projects other than wind.

With land at a premium in the country, the industry is also starting to face local opposition. "Problems between local people are the largest obstacles," says Chun Suk-hyun of the Korea New and Renewable Energy Center. "Locations are more difficult to find and we must look for more remote places, away from residential areas when considering environmental factors such as noise."

That is not to say South Korea is suddenly shy of wind. Rather, the local industry has been reassessing its options and is now forging ahead with plans to become a manufacturing hub for the global wind industry as well as local players. Many in the local industry believe foreign turbines are too expensive to be feasible and with wind power already getting a price of KRW 107.29/kWh ($0.115/kWh), which is KRW 50 ($0.053/kWh) more than power from non renewable energy sources, the cost of importing technology is now being frowned upon. A source from the industry and energy ministers says costs would drop significantly if turbines were larger and made in South Korea. With the country already a manufacturing hub for shipbuilding, car manufacturing and steel production, the last year has seen a swell of interest from local engineering and manufacturing firms wanting to get into wind power.

The most recent is Doosan, a mammoth conglomerate which owns everything from a baseball team to the national Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. One of its affiliates, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, signed on with American Superconductor Corporation subsidiary Windtec to produce 3 MW turbines in January (Windpower Monthly, February 2007). These turbines are slated for series production in late 2009 for future global export, but given Doosan's successful experience in developing nuclear, thermal, and hydro power plants, not to mention its enormous local corporate clout, it is widely expected locally to be the future power house in the domestic wind market.

Doosan's entry into the market leaves South Korea's smaller turbine manufacturers playing catch up. Diligently working their way up from producing 750 kW turbines to 1-2 MW models, Unison, Kowintech, STX Engine, and Hyosung will most likely fill the need for smaller scale projects.

Component niche

Korean firms have also taken serious note of the global shortage in supply of wind turbine components. Taewoong Company and Hyunjin Materials have both long made propeller shafts for the shipbuilding industry. Now they make rotor shafts for wind turbines too. Hyunjin predicts its wind sales will increase from 8% in 2006 to 25% in 2007. Meanwhile, Dongkuk Structures and Construction is the country's top wind tower manufacturer. Its global order book has now topped 1400 units.

With the stirring of wind activity down south, North Korea apparently also woke up to wind power in 2006, declaring it a top energy priority. At November's Asian Energy Security Workshop in Beijing, North Korean officials revealed a three-step plan. Initially, the government hopes to build a 10 MW plant by 2010, with a further three projects to follow to reach a goal for 100 MW by 2015. By 2020, it expects to be building wind farms offshore. Three month's earlier, the state-owned Korea Central News Agency reported "wind power resources is going great guns" and a wind power survey team has developed "a scientific methodology of estimating wind intensity in a new way." Using this method, they "found hundreds of windy zones in the country."

To date, North Korea's most noted wind power interest came with the Nautilus Institute's DPRK Renewable Energy Project in 1998 (Windpower Monthly, May 1999) when the sustainable development organisation, based in San Francisco, helped install seven small turbines with a combined total of just 11.5 kW. And while North Korea's Workers' Party newspaper, the Rodong Shinmun, reported in 2002 that the country had over 190 wind turbines installed in the South Hwanghae province, this has never been confirmed.

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