Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Korea in a Post Covid-19 World, Part 3: The Green New Deal

Posted on | January 29, 2021 | No Comments

This post is my third on the Korean New Deal as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first post, I discussed the origins of the New Deal in the US and its reemergence as the Green New Deal in the UK and US. In the second, I discussed Korea’s Digital New Deal and its emphasis on “DNA” – Data, Network, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to strengthen Korea’s industrial, education, and transportation infrastructure. In a future post, I will look at Korea’s efforts to build a more extensive and inclusive social safety net for its 50+ million people.

In this post, I examine Korea’s concerns about its quality of life and some of its plans for addressing related economic and environmental issues. Despite impressive economic growth and infrastructure development, the country suffers from congested highways, industrial waste, and regular occurrences of high particle content in its air. Consequently, the Moon administration embraced a Green New Deal in mid-July 2020 to address these issues and pursue opportunities for green growth industries with export potential.

President Moon presented the argument:

    The Government will pave the way toward sustainable growth through the Green New Deal. We will create new markets, industries and jobs while actively responding to climate change as a responsible member of the international community.

Areas of particular concern are low-carbon and decentralized energy, urban and water infrastructure, and green solutions that can be commercially viable.

The Korean Green New Deal recognizes the calls for climate and environmental action as well as the opportunities inherent in the transition to a green economy. Bouts of air pollution due to its reliance on coal, heavy vehicle traffic, and proximity to industrial centers domestically and in China plague the country. Consequently, it wants to support green industries and achieve a better balance between the economy and nature.

The Moon administration plans to make way for the new generation of renewable-powered and and digitally-connected vehicles. These include electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen cars and increasingly software-driven “smart” cars. It wants to take over a million diesel vehicles off the road to reduce emissions and support the transition to renewable energy vehicles. Korea has to run to catch up with Chinese and Tesla EVs, but it has the devotion of its domestic car consumers and Hyundai’s Ionique EV is an attractive start. More than 90% of the cars currently on their roads are produced domestically.[1]

One of the challenges of the carbon economy will be to replace the taxes on petroleum imports that helped build an extraordinary road infrastructure throughout Korea. Tax revenues on fuel have been decreasing around the world as vehicles have become more efficient. Likely solutions involve increasing fuel taxes or road user charges that trade a petrol tax for a fee for kilometers traveled.

Its “fast-follower” economic strategy and capabilities will be put to the test to keep Korean manufacturers relevant in the rapidly evolving autonomous anc connected automobile market. But it could also mimic its Android strategy and have Hyundai or Kia team up with Apple or Google for automobile data and software expertise for energy management and higher levels of autonomous driving.

Hydrogen is another automobile technology under consideration. To be viable, it needs to address issues of cost, safety, and infrastructure. Hydrogen can be produced from hydrocarbon molecules with gasification, high heat, or the addition of carbon monoxide to water. It can also be produced with fermentation or through electrolysis, the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen with electricity. Producing this simple fuel can be expensive but idle capacity in its nuclear power facilities at night has been one strategy to produce the non-toxic fuel. Renewable sources with low marginal costs like solar and wind can ideally be used to make the gas in the future.[2] Despite the tragedy of the Hindenburg balloon explosion, hydrogen is still safer than gasoline in most environments. It can be vented quickly and disperses away from a vehicle in case of an accident.

The big issue has been hydrogen for combustion or hydrogen for fuel-cell electricity. Although hydrogen combustion only produces water, the heat of the reaction can subsequently produce dangerous nitrous oxides. This does not occur in a fuel cell that uses a chemical transition involving hydrogen to release electricity that drives an electric motor. Both strategies would require pumping hydrogen into an automobile’s fuel tank and both would emit water.

Priorities from the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance keynote speech on the Green New Deal:

Green New Deal

The refueling infrastructure presents a “chicken or egg” dilemma for both electric and hydrogen-based vehicles. Many consumers have concerns that they will not be able to obtain the needed fuel conveniently and in a timely manner. A network of electric charging stations are springing up in unusual places. The shopping center next to my university campus has a Tesla charging station in the basement parking lot so their high-end consumers can shop at local boutiques and frequent the restaurants. As they do not emit toxic fumes, EV charging stations can be located in a wide variety of locations. High-speed recharging and wireless charging capabilities will hasten the transition to electric vehicles. Hydrogen presents different challenges.

Hydrogen is increasingly used in industrial applications and is a key ingredient in decarbonization strategies. However, its future in automobile propulsion is still questionable due primarily to the lack of refueling infrastructure. Unlike electric recharging, hydrogen requires “gas stations” for refueling due to storage issues and potential dangers due to its volatility. Hydrogen can be transported in small quantities as compressed gas in pressurized cylinders on “tube trucks” to refueling stations for light-duty vehicles. Liquefaction is expensive and requires extremely low temperatures (-253 degrees C). Compared to the US, Korea has few hydrogen gas pipelines or natural gas pipelines into which they can blend hydrogen. Producing hydrogen at the refueling station with alternative energy may be the best strategy for widespread utilization of the gas.

A crucial green response includes building smart electric grids for the energy management of traditional and new eco-friendly, low-carbon power generation systems. The transition from centralized legacy coal and nuclear plants to decentralized renewable-powered generation systems requires extensive hardware and software developments. Intelligent grids (and microgrids) implementing innovations in the management of energy production, energy storage, as well as energy transmission and distribution systems represent both challenges and opportunities to monetize new solutions for an “Internet of Electricity.

Smart grids need to skillfully manage the intermittent sources of electricity to maintain steady flows to communities and industries. Traditional coal, oil, and nuclear power plants are notable for producing a consistent and precise “baseload” amount of electricity throughout the day.[2] While some renewables like hydroelectric power from dams provide consistent electricity, other renewables may require “smart” solutions to know when to store and integrate additional electricity from alternative sources.

One problem that needs to be continuously addressed is the transmission facilities to incorporate electricity from solar and wind projects that are rural. Particular emphasis is on drawing power from the 42 small island regions surrounding the peninsula that might be suitable for large-scale wind farms, solar, or wave power. One of South Korea’s biggest windfarms will be built off the southwest shore of the country. Hanwha is one of the largest solar cell producers in the world as well as solar power-plant construction and project financing.

Korea also hopes to capitalize on new greenhouse gas (GHG) reducing technologies and desalination process efficiencies that could come with cheap energy. While GHG capture technologies are not being used to any significant extent, other technologies can reduce emissions. The green remodeling of buildings with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified technologies will bring both jobs and savings. This includes smart meters in public housing and clean green factories and industrial complexes.

Some are concerned that the Korean New Deal is likely to be heavy on government involvement and lite on government spending. President Moon updated the spending figures recently when he addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos:

Economies thrive on problems, real or even conjured. Taking on challenges and finding innovative ways to engage citizens and companies in productive activities produces wealth as well as options to shape the quality of life. The move to a post-carbon society will raise questions, create debates, and present new opportunities. The Green economy offers possibilities for cleaner air, land, and sea while ultimately producing more energy for mobility, production, and comfort.

In the next post I will focus on Korea New Deal’s attempt to build a jobs and a social safety net.


[1] Lee, E. (2019, July 15). Car ownership in Korea hit 23.44 million in June 2019. Less than 10 percent are imports. Import share of cars where at 9.7% – Pulse by Maeil Business News Korea.
[2] Near-zero marginal costs is an economic concept that refers to the eventual production of a good or service at a very low costs per unit.
[3] Benjamin Matek, Karl Gawell, The Benefits of Baseload Renewables: A Misunderstood Energy Technology, The Electricity Journal, Volume 28, Issue 2, 2015, Pages 101-112,
ISSN 1040-6190,


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Originally from New York, he started his academic career Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand before returning to New York to teach at Marist College and spending most of his career at New York University. He has also spent time at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. When not in the Republic of Korea, he lives in Austin, Texas.


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