|Solar panels are scattered with trees and earth following a landslide in Cheongdo County in North Gyeongsang Province after rainfall, Tuesday. / Courtesy of Cheongdo County|
Solar power plants causing landslides amid heavy rain
By Yoon Ja-young
Solar power plants installed on mountains are causing landslides. Experts say that the government should slow down transition to renewable energies since they also are showing side effects such as environmental problems on top of inefficiency.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced Thursday that it will inspect solar power plants installed on mountains around the country, jointly with the Korea Forest Service. It will also ask 28,688 solar panel operators to inspect their facilities and report any irregularities.
"Based on the inspection, the government will prepare stronger safety measures on solar power plants," the ministry noted in a media release. Korea Forest Service announced it will minimize side effects of solar panels such as destruction of forest views, real estate speculation and landslides.
The announcement follows a series of landslides triggered by solar power plants installed on mountains. Most recently, solar panels installed in Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang Province, slid down the slope following a 61 millimeter rainfall Tuesday, along with around 30 trees and earth pouring down onto a two-lane road nearby. There were no casualties.
In May, spring rain triggered a landslide at solar power plants in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, and a site preparing for solar panel installation collapsed following a 50 millimeter rainfall in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province.
Experts have been showing concern over solar panels as investors have been cutting down trees and destroying forests to install the facilities. Without trees, the land becomes vulnerable to rainfall.
"To build solar power plants, the mountains should be without trees or grass. Land exposed for two decades will end up collapsing," said Lee Duck-hwan, professor at Sogang University.
The landslide is regarded as an alarm against the tightly scheduled energy transition policy of the current administration. The government aims at pulling up the ratio of renewable energy such as solar and wind power to 20 percent by 2030, while deserting nuclear and coal-fired power.
Due to government subsidies, solar panels have been installed en masse around the country. Investors can sell electricity produced at their facilities to the state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), on top of getting favors regarding real estate regulations.
More than 3,000 solar power plants have been installed between January and May this year, with nearly 600 of them installed on mountains. Owners of 1,434 hectares of land in mountainous areas got permission to install solar panels last year, which is 48 times larger than the 30 hectares in 2010.
Experts point out that solar power plants are not totally environment friendly. Most of all, they fall short in terms of energy efficiency. It is estimated that 13.2 square-kilometers of land is needed to generate 1GW of electricity, which equals one nuclear reactor.
"When you build solar panels on mountains, farmland, or above reservoirs, the ecosystem there will inevitably be destroyed. When considering the manufacturing process of solar panels, it is not environmentally friendly at all," Prof. Lee said.