Since April 2001 the Republic of Korea has been deregulating the country’s electricity market, much along the same lines as the restructuring of utilities in the United States.
As a result, after holding a vertically integrated monopoly on Korea’s electricity supply for almost four decades, the state-owned Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) was broken up into six power generation subsidiaries, one operating nuclear and hydroelectric units and five operating thermal power plants in specific geographies, along with four services companies. The deregulation process also created the Korea Power Exchange (KPX), whose goal is to mediate the wholesale trading of power.
Currently, KPX is evaluating models for implementing compliance, design, and security standards for the bulk electric power system, primarily for the sake of simplicity and clarity among the regulators. At the request of the Electrical Engineering Department at South Korea’s Myongji University, I visited Seoul in June 2017 to give lectures to graduate students, industry specialists, and officials about the critical role of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) in the US and Canada and how this model could be applied in Korea's evolving electric sector.
In my view, in order for a NERC-like model to work in South Korea, clear legal mandates, organizational structures and roles for a regulatory body would likely be needed and defined through legislative means, but given an uncertain political climate right now facing the country, it may take a while to get this issue on the front agenda by legislators. Also, South Korea’s Bulk Electricity System is a relatively simpler and smaller one in comparison with that of North America, whose system spreads over a vast geographical area serviced by thousands of generators and transmission networks. Thus, the direct and unfiltered introduction of any kind of NERC-like standards may not be feasible technically and logistically. It will require considerable study and investigation before implementing the NERC-like compliance standards. Finally, there remains a challenge to bring the nation’s six generation subsidiaries into consensus in order to meet their own needs and interests.
The presentations were mainly held at the Next-Generation Power Technology Center (NPTC), an engineering research center sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology and the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation (KOSEF). I also presented to two of the NPTC’s industry supporters and partners: power transformer manufacturer Hyosung Power and Industrial Systems (HICo), and YPP Co, South Korea’s GE UR Relay Distributor/Relay Panel manufacturer. This was my fourth visit to NPTC, but my first representing TRC.
NERC was founded in 1968 to improve the reliability of the bulk electric transmission. In response to a major 2003 power outage in the Eastern United States and Ontario, the 2005 U.S. Energy Policy Act included a provision that led to NERC becoming the U.S. “Electric Reliability Organization.” With that came new powers to set and enforce reliability standards and fine utilities and transmission operators for non-compliance.
Some of the topics I discussed include:
Koreans are looking to the U.S. as a model for technology development and market trends in power equipment and protector relays. I was honored to share TRC's insights and expertise as the Republic of Korea pursues these exciting changes in its electric sector. In spite of the country’s political uncertainties, I remain optimistic, and I am proud that TRC has a unique chance to shape the debate on electricity standardization in this region. Eventual implementation of NERC-like standards customized for South Korea’s unique electricity sector will surely deliver economic and environmental benefits and promote innovation in this dynamic country.