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One small island’s dream of energy self-sufficiency (At a cost of $12 million!)

August 11, 2016

By Paul Homewood  




From the Korean news site, The Hankyoreh:


At 0.85 square kilometers, Gapa Island is less than one-third the size of the Yeouido, an island in the middle of Seoul (2.94 square kilometers). Gapa is located between Mara Island, the southernmost point of South Korean territory, and Moseul Port on Jeju Island. But this tiny island is undertaking a revolutionary experiment in energy independence.

The project to bring energy self-sufficiency to Gapa Island was launched in 2011. The reason that the island was selected for the trial project is because of its small size, its plentiful wind power and solar energy and its proximity to Jeju Island.


GapaIsland‘ energy supply by source


A total of 14.3 billion won (US$12.49 million) was invested in the project. Two 250kW wind turbines were installed, along with 174kW solar panels in 49 locations. Other installations included an energy storage device, a system control center, power conversion equipment and remotely controlled power meters. The electricity produced in this way powers the households on the island, four electric cars and a desalination plant.

Since the energy self-sufficiency project began, the lives of island residents have changed dramatically. The population of the island is 178 people in 97 households, and solar panels were installed in the 49 households that are not composed of elderly people (65 years old and older).

Before the project began, electricity cost between 120,000 and 130,000 per month during the summer, but now, the price has fallen to one fifth of that, between 20,000 and 25,000 won. There has also been a major boost in the number of tourists, which rose from 10,000 in 2008 and 40,000 in 2011 to 110,000 in 2015.

“At first, we weren’t satisfied with the results of renewable energy. Now, though, it’s benefiting us in two ways: our electricity bills are lower and the number of tourists is higher,” said Jin Myeong-hwan, the 55-year-old mayor of Gapa Island.


Electric cars on Gapa Island

Between Apr. 23 and July 12 of this year, Gapa Island had a cumulative energy self-sufficiency rate of 42%. The island is meeting 32% of its energy needs from wind power and 10% from solar power. The rate climbed above 50% in May, but fell again in the monsoon season. The other 58% of energy is still supplied by diesel generators.

The combined generative capacity of wind power and solar power is 674kW a day, which is already much higher than the island’s average daily energy need of 142kW and its maximum need of 230kW. The problem, however, is that the supply of wind power and solar power is not stable. For this reason, surplus power is stored in the 3.86MWh energy storage system, but this can only be used for up to eight hours.

Solar panels on Gapa Island


As the energy self-sufficiency rate of 42% shows, Gapa Island is less than halfway to its goal. It will have to raise the rate to 100% to attain true energy self-sufficiency.

“If we doubled the capacity of the current energy storage system, we could supply energy for up to three days and raise the self-sufficiency level to 100%. But to do that the current price of energy storage needs to drop by half,” said Hwang U-hyeon, head of the new industry team for the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).


Now I don’t want to spoil the party, but there is one tiny little problem that our Korean friends seem to have overlooked!

According to the article, $12.49 million was invested in the project, on an island with just 97 households. That makes $128,763 per household.

Now I somehow don’t think that the islanders had quite enough money in their piggy banks to afford this.

Even without interest, this would work out at over $8000/year for every household. It also seems that, apart from the desalination plant, there is no industry to speak of, which would of course have pushed the figure much higher.

It is little wonder the islanders’ electricity bills have come down, because the capital cost of the project has been paid for by Santa Claus.

They might just as well have just as well have bought a few million AA batteries, and achieved the same results. But it would not have been very practical, would it?

  1. Harry Passfield permalink
    August 11, 2016 6:16 pm

    When it comes to energy self-sufficiency, I have to say I’ve enjoyed a few good Summers on Herm (just off Guernsey) where all the island is powered by their own diesel generators (ie: They are not grid-connected). That means, btw, that there are no electric kettles in the wonderful White House Hotel (too many guests brewing early-morning tea would overload the gennies), just camping Gaz stoves with a kettle. Very quaint. Nonetheless, they are self-sufficient.
    (BTW: no cars, no TV, no piped music, and only Radio 4 in the bedrooms. Joy!)

    • Sara Hall permalink
      August 11, 2016 7:55 pm

      Here in Guernsey, we get most of our power via Jersey and cables connecting us to France’s (nuclear) grid. Here’s the new cable they’re currently laying.

      I seem to remember reading recently that we’ll end up with 95% nuclear once this cable is laid. Sounds good to me, as long as we remain on good terms with our neighbours that is!

      Naturally, as everywhere it seems nowadays, there is a generally non-scientific green movement here that would like us to take advantage of the huge tides and currents that rush round the islands, but when I ask for details of just how they plan to develop this technology, I get nothing but blank stares.

    • August 11, 2016 9:05 pm

      We went to Herm on a day trip from Guernsey as a kid. I remember the Shell Beach!

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        August 11, 2016 9:28 pm

        Ahh…the shell beach! Brilliant! In every way. And hardly anyone on it. Can’t recommend the place enough. Peace – and a good pub.

    • Ex-expat Colin permalink
      August 12, 2016 7:22 am

      Radio 4 FFS!..I’d charge the BBC for their emissions into the island.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      August 12, 2016 1:25 pm

      “Nonetheless, they are self-sufficient.”
      Do they have a supply of Diesel Oil from a well and their own refinery then?

  2. Harry Passfield permalink
    August 11, 2016 6:31 pm

    AEP in the DT today is bigging up another island that could become self-sufficient in energy based on wind, solar, tide and ……. batteries! He reckons the UK is only a generation away from it, and all because of the magic battery that will be developed to support a 500 MW wind farm.

    His last paragraph says it all:

    This country can achieve total self-sufficiency in power at viable cost from our own sun, wind, and waters within a generation. Once we shift to electric vehicles as well, we will no longer need to import much oil either. Rejoice.

    Obviously failing to see that if the country switched over to electric vehicles en-masse the need for electricity generation would probably double (or does he think electric cars are charged by fairies at night?).

    BTW: I so miss the opportunity to comment an crap like this at the new DT.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      August 12, 2016 7:43 am

      AEP obviously lacks elementary arithmetic skills, so commenting be a waste of time.
      How many batteries would be needed (at a reasonable capacity) and where would they come from?
      And if the wind failed? Perhaps they could use the electric charge differential in clouds – paint flying pigs with aluminium paint and have them bounce up and down on the clouds?
      no, it would work because the Greens would object to the power cables attached to the pig’s tails and would want everybody to stand underneath and catch their electricity in metal buckets..

    • August 12, 2016 10:17 am

      Yes, it’s a real shame DT shut down their comments. It used to be a joy to read comments from engineers pointing out the gaping holes in Ambrose’s green fantasy. Now he gets to spout his nonsense unopposed. Seems like AEP’s carrying the torch for green bullsh1t since DT got rid of Geoffrey Lean and Louise Grey.

  3. AZ1971 permalink
    August 11, 2016 6:32 pm

    Few residents with low energy needs + RE projects + ten-fold increase in tourists = sustained energy deficiency. Where’s the problem? The increase in tourists, all of whom need energy and water during their visits, even if for the day. They’re solving one problem only to shoot themselves in the other foot.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    August 11, 2016 6:40 pm

    If we doubled the capacity of the current energy storage system, …

    Get them some big rubber bands. Attach these to the blades of the turbines. When the wind stops the rubber bands unwind and problem solved.

    Where did the 14.3 billion won come from?
    Is the storage system a battery? How much did it cost?
    What happens if one of the wind choppers fails?
    What if the “storage system” fails?

    They could abandon the island, make a wildlands park of it, charge tourists, and make a profit that could support the 178 people (most will die in the next 20 years) in decent modern living quarters.
    I must have gotten out of the grumpy side of the bed this morning.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      August 12, 2016 7:44 am

      Me too. See (sub) comment above.

  5. August 11, 2016 6:49 pm

    It would have been much cheaper to have laid a cable from the mainland. The cost of this project is ridiculous.

  6. diogenese2 permalink
    August 11, 2016 7:09 pm

    “a dream of energy self – sufficiency”

    Taking Atenolol for hypertension does occasionally produce bizarre, delusional dreams like this as I can testify. What is this self-sufficiency that requires an enormous gifted technology whose existence is only possible by global sized industrial enterprise? Is there amongst their 178 inhabitants, probably half retired over 65’s (like me actually) the skilled technicians needed to operate and MAINTAIN this equipment? How many can even make a pencil ?
    Sorry, that was cheap!

    It seems to me that the diesel generators necessary to maintain the baseload are quite capable of providing the whole demand alone and the entire project is (financially) absurd.

    “The South Korean government is currently asking companies to invest in the energy self-sufficiency project on five islands, including Deokjeok Island.
    The government and Jeju Island are planning to help the whole of Jeju Island – with a population of 600,000 people – reach carbon-free energy self-sufficiency by 2030.
    Renewable energy generators with a capacity of 180MW have already been built around Gujwa Township as part of a project costing 350 billion won.
    “If we’re successful on Jeju Island, we’re planning to gradually extend that success to cities on the mainland. Electric cars, solar panels for homes and energy storage will lead the way to change,” Hwang said.”

    My one remaining hope is that I live long enough to see the consequences of this insanity cause the dreamers to awake into the nightmare they have created.

    • nightspore permalink
      August 13, 2016 5:15 pm

      According to a famous essay, no one can make a pencil …

  7. August 11, 2016 7:20 pm

    Electric cars powered by diesel generators. Brilliant!

  8. tom0mason permalink
    August 11, 2016 7:52 pm

    Ho-humm, looks like the green-blob has infected S. Korea, I suppose they believe it is cost effective too.
    Luckily the South Koreans build cost effective nuclear power stations.

  9. Jan_Vermeer permalink
    August 11, 2016 7:56 pm

    Now try to build these few Solar Panels and Wind Turbines, the Storage, using only Wind and Solar energy.
    This should include the entire chain from extraction of raw materials, minerals up until the actual start of production of energy on the spot. It is a fantasy world this Solar / Wind thing with a lot of people making a lot money of it payed for by our tax money based on a non-issue or even a scam.

  10. manicbeancounter permalink
    August 11, 2016 8:52 pm

    There is a awful lot of electricity being generated that is being wasted. Maximum demand is just 230kw, against 674kw of renewable capacity. I presume that excess goes into storage. 8 hours at average demand of 142kw is just under 1200kwh. On a windy sunny day the batteries are fully charged in areas morning. Which means in the afternoon you can shut off the turbines. Joking apart, periods of strong winds will lead to wastage.

    • August 11, 2016 10:28 pm

      Yes, which is why Wyoming has such poor wind performance. Here, there’s no wind, then 40 mph wind. For months, there has been virtually no wind except during storms. Yet the “average wind” is so enticing. It is claimed to be 40 mph where they want to build the Sierra Madre-Chokecherry 1000 turbines. I have been through the area repeatedly when there is no wind. How fast does the wind have to blow to average out to 40 in that case? The cutout speed on turbines is reportedly 45 mph on some manufacturer’s turbines. It makes no sense. Feast and famine.

  11. August 11, 2016 10:31 pm

    It’s always “small islands” this is done on. That avoids the reality of scale, one of the problems with wind and solar. It may work with a couple of hundred islanders, but with a couple of million people in a city, it just does not work.

    There’s the constant pronouncements that we are just a few years away from storage and perfected technology. I suspect those predictions will continue for decades, even as the lights go out waiting for the promised technology. But people WANT to believe.

  12. August 12, 2016 4:37 am

    One 300 hp diesel engine will more than supply the power needs for this island. A second engine would supply adequate backup and any peaking needs. You can do that for a heck of a lot less than the wind, solar and diesel described. Seems to be a simpler and more efficient solution. It’s not quite as sexy and expensive as a renewable conglomeration that needs the diesel anyway. I guess if you have the money you can do all sorts of things.

    • manicbeancounter permalink
      August 12, 2016 8:16 pm

      The recommended minimum would be three diesel engines. One could be down for overhaul, which could take weeks. Capital cost is a tiny fraction of the system described above.

  13. August 12, 2016 8:27 am

    BTW at Teddington the council has just lost loads of money trying to be green, as the court quashed the micro-hydro plan due to council not following correct planning procedure.
    statement from Lensbury Club objected’s a sporting club owned by Shell Oil (It’s statement said hydro is OK, but not this planning application.

  14. August 12, 2016 10:20 am

    “and the number of tourists is higher”, said a spokesman for Greenpeace Turbine Tours…..

  15. Dave Ward permalink
    August 12, 2016 11:34 am

    “They might just as well have just as well have bought a few million AA batteries, and achieved the same results. But it would not have been very practical, would it?”

    Oh, I don’t know – Mercedes seem to have done a pretty good job:

  16. David Young permalink
    August 12, 2016 12:19 pm

    I’ve previously mentioned the planning application for a proposed 1MW solar farm on an old land fill site [1]. It would appear that the green brigade have finally caught on and sent in a flurry of supporting representations, though you’ll note that the only truly local response (from the Stretton Sugwas Parish Council) actually objects to the proposal…

    “We would simply reiterate our view as a community organisation on behalf of Stretton Sugwas that we remain gravely that the risks associated with this particular site as a result of interference to the landfill cap via a development on a questionable economic model business case does not make sense.”

    Of course there is the usual parroted clean energy powering X number of homes waffle (165 or 250 – depending upon whether one reads the application or the New Leaf Solar website [2]). My alternative view, however, is that the development would need to be at least three times as large to have the capacity to power just one body (of the twin bodied) air induction melting furnace at the local metals bashing factory [3] – and, of course, the sun doesn’t shine at night.

    Such is the result of adding industry to the mix.




  17. John Peter permalink
    August 12, 2016 1:03 pm

    Wait a moment. AMBROSE EVANS-PRITCHARD will come to the rescue. Storage is just round the corner and we don’t need dispatchable energy in a few years time.

    Don’t think I have lost my sanity as somehow I don’t believe this. It would also appear that retention may just be overnight so what about extended high pressure without wind?

  18. A C Osborn permalink
    August 12, 2016 1:32 pm

    Euan Mearns has some really deep investigative work on Island Green Schemes.
    They are very expensive and never do as they were advertised to do and greens are still saying that they will.
    His latest is

  19. Taylor Pohlman permalink
    August 13, 2016 12:56 pm

    The really sad part for these island folks being experimented on is when it comes time to repair/replace this incredibly expensive stuff. Anybody think the islanders can pony up that money? Or pay for it via more realistic electricity rates? That when you’ll see a few more diesel units show up…

  20. August 26, 2016 12:14 pm

    So the utility company spent some 14.3 billion won, and the islanders are saving some 100,000 won per month. If my math is correct, that gives a payback period of some 1,000 years!


  1. Powering Korean Island with Sunshine & Breezes Costs Each Household $8,000 per Year – STOP THESE THINGS

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