SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Samsung Electronics is shifting away from fossil fuels and aiming to run its global operations entirely on clean electricity by 2050, a challenging goal that experts say could be hampered by South Korea’s modest climate commitments.
South Korea-based Samsung is a top maker of computer memory chips and smartphones and, by some estimates, the biggest energy consumer among hundreds of global companies that have joined the “RE100” campaign to get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar energy.
In announcing the goal on Thursday, the company said it aims to achieve zero carbon emissions across its mobile device, display panel and consumer electronics divisions by 2030, and across all global operations including semiconductors by 2050.
It plans to invest 7 trillion won ($5 billion) until 2030 in projects aimed at reducing emissions from process gases, controlling and recycling electronic waste, conserving water and minimizing pollution. It plans to develop new technologies to reduce power consumption in consumer electronics devices and data centers, which will require more efficient memory chips. It will also set long-term targets to reduce emissions in supply chains and logistics.
“Samsung is responding to the threats of climate change with a comprehensive plan that includes reducing emissions, new sustainability practices and developing innovative technologies and products that are better for our planet,” Jong-Hee Han, the company’s CEO, said in an emailed statement.
Samsung’s plan drew praise from some of its investors, including Dutch pension fund manager APG, which said the company could potentially make a “significant contribution” to cleaning up South Korea’s electricity market, given its impact and influence on the national economy.
But APG also expressed concern that Samsung’s announcement comes at a time when South Korea has pushed back on its climate change policy.
The conservative government of President Yoon Suk Yeol, which took office in May, has focused much of its energy policy on promoting nuclear-generated electricity. Desperate to boost a weak economy, Yoon’s government has also indicated reluctance to sharply reduce the country’s reliance on coal and gas, which generate about 65% of South Korea’s electricity.
South Korea got 7.5% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2021, significantly lower than the 30% average among rich nations that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yoon’s government recently adjusted the country’s renewable energy target to 21% of the total energy mix by 2030, softening the 30% target announced by his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in.
Samsung acknowledged that it would have a more difficult time converting to renewable electricity sources at home than at its overseas operations, where it aims to reach 100% clean energy by 2027.
“As a long-term investor in Korea, we are concerned about how the government plans to reconcile the industry’s desperate need for clean electricity to remain relevant in the long run,” Yoo-Kyung Park, APG’s Asia Pacific head of responsible investment and governance, said in a statement.
Samsung, South Korea’s biggest company, had faced increasing pressure to do more to reduce its carbon emissions as it lagged behind some of its peers in climate commitments. These companies include Apple, a major buyer of Samsung’s chips, which joined the RE100 in 2016 and plans to be carbon neutral throughout its operations and production chains by 2030, putting pressure on suppliers to meet these requirements.
Samsung is the crown jewel of an export-dependent economy driven by the production of semiconductors, cars, display panels, mobile phones and ships, industries that tend to have high energy consumption.
Samsung used 25.8 terawatt hours of electricity for its operations last year, which was almost double the amount consumed by all households in the South Korean capital Seoul and more than other global technology giants such as Google, Apple, Meta, Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.
Samsung’s embrace of clean electricity could have significant supply chain effects, pushing other companies to increase their renewable energy supplies, said Jin Woo-sam of the Seoul-based Corporate Renewable Energy Foundation.
“Most meaningfully, Samsung’s RE100 commitment sends a strong signal to the renewable energy market and policy makers to increase the supply of renewable energy in view of the company’s massive power consumption,” Jin said.