The Billions of Dollars Behind Korea's Smart Grid

Korea famously invested in its national broadband infrastructure and was able to vault itself into a position as a world leader for mobile, Internet and consumer electronics innovation. Can the country do the same for the smart grid? It will certainly be spending the money to try — according to Pike Research the Korean government and private industry expect to spend $15.8 billion on building out smart grid infrastructure in the country between 2009 and 2016.

Korea’s Smart Grid Institute, a government-backed group focused on the country’s smart grid strategy, says the government and industry plan to spend even more than that — over $24 billion — by 2030. The country’s “Smart Grid Roadmap” includes an investment of $6.16 billion on smart grid technology ($1.93 billion from the government and $4.23 billion from private industry) and $18.05 billion on a smart grid infrastructure buildout (including $440 million from the government and $17.61 billion from private industry).

The initial target for investment is the country’s smart grid pilot project on the island of Jeju, which is south of Seoul. The country has picked 10 companies including leading telecom and broadband firms — LG, SK Telecom and KT — along with KEPCO, GS Caltex, and Hyundai Heavy Industries, to build out the infrastructure. It’s not uncommon for a smart grid pilot to focus on an isolated community, like an island.

Korea will no doubt be able to use its long history in information technology, consumer electronics and wireless networks to build a sophisticated smart grid project. The big question at this point is this: How successful will Korean smart grid firms be at exporting their products to the rest of the world?

The consortium leading the Jeju island project said last November that they’re shooting for 30 percent share of the global smart grid industry. Pike Research analyst Andy Bae said that Korean smart grid firms “[A]re now poised to take a significant leadership role in the Smart Grid market, both within Korea and on a global level.”

Pike Research analyst Clint Wheelock told me back in January that he’s seen a growing interest from Korean electronics and communications companies in the U.S. smart grid market. Wheelock told me that Korean firms like LG Chem (which is supplying battery cells for the Chevy Volt) and Samsung SDI “have strong ambitions for the U.S. market. I believe they will soon begin business development discussions with utilities, if not already.”

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