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[Herald Interview] Jeju strives to be global benchmark with carbon-free project

With 35 percent of Korea’s total green car registrations, city aspires to have 17,770 EV charging stations by year-end

SEOGWIPO, Jeju Island -- The resort island of Jeju is striving to be the global benchmark for sustainable development with its carbon-free project that includes plans to boost the use of renewable energy and eco-friendly vehicles, according to Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Gov. Won Hee-ryong.

Won, who has used three electric vehicles since taking office in 2014, holds the honorary status of being the first provincial governor to use an official green car.

“The change from gasoline cars to EVs has the effect of saving over 4 million won ($3,400) on average per year for an annual run of 24,000 kilometers,” Won told The Korea Herald in a recent interview. 

Won Hee-ryong, the governor of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. (Jeju Provincial Government)

Won Hee-ryong, the governor of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. (Jeju Provincial Government)

“This is the same as cutting down 3.9 tons of CO2 and planting 28 trees,” he said, adding that the lack of noise when driving an EV helps him focus better on brainstorming for his policies.

Jeju Island was selected in 2011 by the central government to lead the EV industry development in South Korea.

The following year in 2012, it launched the Carbon Free Island 2030 project (CFI 2030) and gave unlimited financial support to the EV industry.

As a result, the number of green cars registered in Jeju marked 16,352 as of December 2018, taking up more than one-third of Korea’s total number of registered green cars -- 36,835 as of end-June 2018.

Including the charging stations installed at individual homes, Jeju had 14,108 charging stations as of December 2018. The rate of charging stations per cars registered reaches over 90 percent.

An aerial view of Jeju (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
An aerial view of Jeju (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

With an EV charging station every 3.5 kilometers, the island boasts one of the best infrastructure for EVs. But visitors still complain about the lack of “open” charging stations at public parking lots. As of August 2018, Jeju had 1,103 open express chargers that require 30 minutes to an hour for a full recharge, and 344 slow chargers, which fully recharge overnight.

A 26-year-old Seoul resident Kim Hee-hyen told The Korea Herald recently that she “had to spend a good amount of my weekend visit to Jeju searching for the nearest available charging station.”

While there are plenty of charging stations, the problem lies in the relatively long time that EVs take to recharge. During the often hourlong endeavor, drivers leave their cars unattended, and by the time their vehicles are done charging, the drivers aren’t present to vacate the spot quickly enough for the next user.

To alleviate the issue of people hogging charging stations, the authorities has started levying a fee at the open charging stations that have been free to use so far. A do-not-disturb-charging law -- penalties on those who leave their charging vehicle unattended after it is fully charged -- is being implemented.

Electric vehicles at a rental service operator. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Electric vehicles at a rental service operator. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

The move, like many other fledgling policies, has run into opposition. Jang Jae-ahn, 38, for instance said he was put off to learn that seven out of every 10 people who took out EV rentals ended up paying 100,000 won fine for hogging the charging station after their vehicles were fully charged. He otherwise was advised to wait near the car for the full hour it took for charging to be completed. This is a disadvantage although the rental service offers benefits such as a refueling charge in the form of a credit card to lease an EV.

Jeju aspires to solve this issue by equipping the island with a total of 17,770 charging stations this year.

“We will require car rental operators to rent out fully charged EVs, and install more charging stations at major tourist sites and at accommodations,“ Gov. Won said.

A comprehensive EV service system incorporating mobile smart applications for real-time information on availability of charging stations, signboards on roads, and hotline for difficulties while operating EVs are other resolutions that are being pushed forward. 

Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong speaks at the opening ceremony for the sixth International Electric Vehicle Expo held at Jeju International Convention Center in Seogwipo-si, Jeju Island, Wednesday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong speaks at the opening ceremony for the sixth International Electric Vehicle Expo held at Jeju International Convention Center in Seogwipo-si, Jeju Island, Wednesday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Coinciding with the sixth annual International Electric Vehicle Expo in Jeju, the city announced it will inject 129 billion won in four years for newly designated regulatory sandbox areas.

The fund comprises of the central government’s contribution of 61 billion won, Jeju government’s 31 billion won and private sector investments amounting to 38 billion won.

The areas to be covered by the regulatory sandbox include the advanced science technology district in Ara-dong, Jeju National University, Jeju South Korea Polytechnic University campus, Jeju International University and the Jeju Innovation City area in the island’s southern half of Seogwipo.

“My vision is to make Jeju a sustainable city based on clean, renewable energy,” said Won. 

Hamdeok Beach, Jeju Island (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Hamdeok Beach, Jeju Island (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

The province has so far been heavily dependent on agro-fishery business involving regional specialty tangerines and seafood, as well as tourism-focused accommodation and retail services. With its aquamarine-colored shores and Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea, the region attracted approximately 14 million visitors in 2018. This was despite the reduction of foreign visitors due to a temporary fallout with China following US’ deployment of THAAD anti-missile defense system in Korea.

The city has always felt the need to develop more areas of business for sustainability.

“Jeju has the ideal conditions to foster green energy businesses, as it is rich in natural resources, wind and solar energy,” Won said, “We are working for a harmonious expansion of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ with existing industries.”

The government has vowed to replace all energy consumption on the island by 2030 to wind-generated electricity, and other forms of renewable energy. All cars will be replaced with EVs. The carbon-free island project has four main pillars of EV, renewable energy, smart city and smart grid. The project received attention from various countries for its potential of being applicable to some 2,400 cities around the globe.

“For EVs, not only the direction but also the timing is critical. We must dominate the market faster than other global players,” Won said, adding that he hopes that others will benchmark Jeju’s success.

The city is collaborating with Korea’s leading technology university KAIST for a specially established research institute that focuses on electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as connecting with other players in the industry for commercialization.

“Seoul, Daegu and cities in the Gyeonggi Province can benchmark our case,” said Won, “What we are doing here can serve as a textbook for the other cities looking to expand their EV market.”

Jeju wishes to work together with the Netherlands and France for wind-generated renewable energy and carbon-free technologies. “Jeju will share its know-how with other global players including North Korea,” said Won, “We will actively take part in international associations to decrease pollution on a worldwide scale.”

The government proposes to encourage commercial EV charging service industry, improve the infrastructure of open charging stations and increase the number of stations for the disabled. The city is also working to build an energy storage system center before the end of this year, and a hybrid renewable EV charging station that will make use of blockchain technology to store and manage EV battery usage.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (