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  • Creating and Sharing Energy: Energy Welfare Communities

  • Environment SMG 3372

    [Seoul’s energy-independent neighborhoods]

    • Seongdaegol Village, the birthplace of energy-independent neighborhoods (currently 55 energy-independent neighborhoods now in operation)
    • Seongdaegol uses energy consumption graphs to visually motivate participants to conserve energy
    • Seongdaegol households use various methods to save energy (e.g. using LED lights, participating in the Lights-out Movement, and using multi-tabs)
    • Saejaemi Village residents operate an Environment School, create a Sarangbang community, and engage in urban farming for carbon reduction
    • Residents of energy-independent neighborhoods conduct energy check-ups for single-senior households
    • Profits from the sales of energy-saving products are used for community service purposes
    • Seongdaegol Village residents serve as instructors for the creation of energy-independent neighborhoods

    Every day, people and the cities in which they live consume large quantities of energy. In the city, since many people live and work together in the same area, it is no surprise that energy consumption levels are high. This is particularly true in the hot summer and cold winter months when people crank up their air conditioners and heaters.

    How is Seoul, a city with a population of 10 million people, responding to the issues created by high energy consumption?

    Seoul’s “energy-independent neighborhoods”

    Seoul has recently designated certain of its communities as: “energy-independent neighborhoods”. “Energy-independent neighborhoods” are recognized for their high levels of energy conservation and efficiency. These neighborhoods—through the proactive efforts of their citizens—have minimized their need for external energy sources due to their own production of new and renewable energy. The very idea of energy independence/self-sufficiency in a city may, on the surface, sound like nothing more than a pipe dream. In Seoul, however, there is an increasing number of neighborhoods that are beginning to achieve this dream of energy-independence.

    One such neighborhood is Seongdaegol Village, which is one of 55 energy-independent neighborhoods in operation around Seoul.

    Seoul’s “energy-independent neighborhoods”
    Map of energy-independent neighborhoods Energy education at Seongdaegol Village
    Map of energy-independent neighborhoods Energy education at Seongdaegol Village

    Seongdaegol Village, the birthplace of energy self-sufficiency

    Seongdaegol Village stands out from other energy-independent villages (Seoul currently has 55) due to its superior eco-friendly methods of energy production, such as its village solar plant. Residents of Seongdaegol Village actively pursue methods of saving energy in their daily lives. This environmentally conscious mindset and the changes it has brought have begun to create a ripple effect outside the neighborhood as well.

    Seongdaegol Village, the birthplace of energy self-sufficiency
    Seongdaegol, an energy-independent neighborhood (Source: Institute for Climate Change Action)
    Seongdaegol, an energy-independent neighborhood (Source: Institute for Climate Change Action)

    The Children’s Library at Seongdaegol Village is where the community’s energy conservation movement began, and the library continues to play an important role in the community’s environmental efforts. The library features a solar plant, bicycle generator, and a graph posted on the wall titled “Seongdaegol: Where Power-Saving Happens.” In accordance with its motto, “The energy we save is the energy we produce,” Seongdaegol Village uses the graph to display the energy consumption statistics of each household and place of business. The graph gives villagers a general idea of how much energy is being consumed at home. Also, by comparing the energy consumption levels of different households, the graph encourages a friendly sense of competition as motivation to save energy.

    In Seongdaegol Village, households that participate in energy conservation are called “kind energy protectors,” while places of business are called “kind stores.” The village also features several “energy cars,” which are cars or one-ton trucks that have been renovated as traveling cafés or restaurants. In these car cafés, everything, including the oven, coffee machine, and cotton candy machine, is operated solely by solar power. Even on days when there is not enough sunlight for active energy production, the energy cars can be operated for up to nine hours using electricity stored in the charged solar panels.

    In this energy-conscious village, each household engages in a variety of energy conservation efforts, such as using LED lights (which have high energy efficiency levels), taking part in the Lights-out Movement (a movement in which all lights are turned off for a certain period of time on a specific day), and using multi-tabs to conserve the standby electricity supply.

    In order to increase awareness of environmental/energy issues and change public perception of them, the neighborhood often hosts special lectures and workshops on environmental issues. The village also hosts other activities like energy festivals, performances and concerts, and environmental movie screenings powered by bicycle generators, and creates environmental methods that can be applied to everyday life.

    Saejaemi Village, promoting energy-independence and a sense of community

    The village’s colloquial name of “Saejaemi” is derived from its original Korean name and is used instead of the village’s administrative district (Siheung 4-dong). The village was jointly established with the purpose of achieving energy self-sufficiency by the Environment Justice, an organization that aims to realize a society that is just and sustainable both socially and ecologically, and the Saejaemi Village Residents’ Council.

    When the village was initially designated as an energy-independent neighborhood, the village community did not participate much in conservation efforts. However, the program gradually gained momentum and support over the next 18 months through the conducting of diverse neighborhood events, the village’s Environment School, and projects such as Sarangbang, which sought to raise community awareness. Supporters also operated projects to improve the household energy efficiency of low-income families and engaged in urban farming for the purpose of carbon reduction.

    Once the program gained more support, the neighborhood residents added a greater element of fun to their energy self-sufficiency efforts to encourage participation. One project that was particularly well-received by the community was the transformation of vacant land throughout the neighborhood into fresh vegetable gardens. Through the project, areas covered with weeds and illegally-disposed-of garbage were cleaned up by the residents and planted with vegetable (peppers, eggplant, beans, etc.) and wildflower seeds, which led to a true “blossoming” of the conservation spirit. The residents of Saejaemi Village continue to look for more hidden patches of usable land to turn into green areas.

    Saejaemi Village, promoting energy-independence and a sense of community
    A vegetable garden planted on formerly vacant land Creating wall paintings
    A vegetable garden planted on formerly vacant land Creating wall paintings

    Energy welfare and economic benefits stemming from energy self-sufficiency

    As of 2015, Seoul has 35 energy-independent neighborhoods that voluntarily save energy and increase their production of new and renewable energy, establishing the foundations for long-term energy independence. So far through their efforts, these 35 neighborhoods have been able to reduce their electricity consumption by an average of 4.2% compared to the previous year and have installed 41 3kW-home solar power generators and 284 mini-solar generators (for apartment balconies).

    In addition to minimizing their villages’ demands for external energy sources through conservation efforts, residents (including teenaged students) of energy-independent neighborhoods have created clean living environments by turning areas in apartment complexes previously used for garbage disposal into flower beds. These newly transformed areas are regularly cleaned and maintained and posted with signs that explain energy conservation.

    Community efforts for energy self-sufficiency also include energy-related welfare activities. Organizations of housewives regularly visit single-senior households to check for energy leaks and deliver banchan (side dishes). The profits from “energy supermarkets”, which sell energy-saving products at affordable prices, are used to help members of the community in need.

    Through Seoul’s energy-independent neighborhood program, operated in cooperation with various corporations, Eunpyeong-gu’s mountain villages, which formerly consisted mostly of dilapidated housing and low-income households, have become the target of intensive energy welfare projects. A generous corporate donation to the program has enabled the installation of mini-solar generators and house repairs for 21 households. Through these and other efforts, energy-independent neighborhoods are not only enhancing their own energy self-sufficiency, but also promoting the welfare of others and creating jobs.

    The residents of Seongdaegol Village, Seoul’s first energy-independent neighborhood, earn income by working as energy-independent neighborhood instructors. One resident earns a monthly income of KRW 1.4 million as the project manager for newly-designated, energy-independent neighborhoods. The positive effect of energy-independent neighborhoods on job creation is gradually gaining more attention from experts. Energy-independent neighborhoods, supported and sustained by the voluntary efforts of their residents, do not merely stop at energy conservation; in the future, these neighborhoods are expected to create another “miracle” in the form of ushering in a new energy economy.