The metropolis of Seoul accounts for one-tenth of Korea’s total energy consumption. However, the city’s electricity self-sufficiency rate is a mere five percent. How can this supply-demand imbalance be addressed in a metropolis that has no room for the installation of a massive power plant? How can such a city produce more electricity and increase its electricity self-sufficiency rate? Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has found the answer to both these questions in solar energy.
Imagine what it would be like if we could use solar energy to charge our mobile phones, process garbage, and even repair shoes. All of these things are now a reality in Seoul.
|Solar-powered bus stop||Wired/wireless solar charger for mobile phones|
The bus stop in front of the Sejong Center in Gwanghwamun may look no different from an ordinary bus stop, but closer inspection reveals that the roof is equipped with a solar power generator.
The electricity produced by this generator is used to power the bus stop monitoring system and information terminal that shows bus arrival times. It can also be used to charge mobile phones. The mobile phone charger is located between the bus stop’s two benches, allowing citizens to watch videos or listen to music while they wait without worrying about battery life. The mobile phone charger is particularly useful to the many foreign tourists that visit the Gwanghwamun area. Charging their mobile phones at this bus stop ensures that they are always able to check the bus routes and find major tourist attractions nearby.
Also powered by solar energy are new garbage cans that feature an internal compressor mechanism which compresses the trash in the can when it reaches a certain point. As a result, these garbage cans can hold six to eight times more trash than regular garbage cans.
In addition, roadside shops throughout Seoul have been equipped with solar power generators, allowing them to save approximately 10 percent in electricity costs.
Solar power generators can now be found all throughout Seoul—and it all began with SMG’s creation of the Seoul Sustainable Energy Action Plan. With the goal of becoming energy-independent, the city is transforming itself into a “solar city” through the citywide use of solar batteries and installation of solar power generators.
This effort to build a “solar city” started with the use of unoccupied spaces (e.g. rooftops of public buildings). Solar panels were installed on the rooftops of various types of public buildings, including district offices, Mokdong Stadium, The University of Seoul, and Arisu Water Purification Centers. Between 2006 and June 2016, 659 solar power generation facilities were installed on top of public buildings. In 2015 alone, such facilities were installed in 138 locations, featuring a total capacity of 5,302 kilowatts.
|Solar panels at the Gangbuk Arisu Water Purification Centery||Solar panels installed on the walls of Dobong Office|
Since July 2014, the Gangbuk Arisu Water Purification Center has been operating the largest solar power generation facility in Seoul. The 18,720 solar modules of the facility span an area of approximately 96,000 square meters—13 times larger than the average soccer stadium. The Gangbuk Center produces an annual average of 6,500 megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 2,180 four-person households for one year.
Seoul residents are actively participating in the effort to make Seoul an energy-independent city. For example, the residents of some districts have installed solar panels themselves. The best example of this is the solar panel on the rooftop of Dobong Culture & Information Library. The residents of Dobong-gu established the Dobong Citizens’ Solar Generator Social Cooperative and worked together to raise enough funds to build a 20-kilowatt solar panel. This is incredibly meaningful, as it is the first solar power generator in Korea installed using private funds. In addition, the coop’s proceeds are used to support the welfare of socially vulnerable groups (e.g. energy poor).
With interest in solar power growing among local residents, more and more solar power generators are being installed at private homes, such as on rooftops and over or above windows, where they produce electricity for the household. Starting with three households in 2004, the number of households with their own solar power generator has increased to 5,745 over 13 years, as of June 2016.
In particular, the number of solar-powered homes has increased to 4,563 since SMG launched the One Less Nuclear Power Plant project in 2012, and remains on the rise.
|Solar panel installed on the rooftop of Dobong Culture & Information Library||Mini solar power generator on the veranda of an apartment|
To further increase the number of solar power generators, Seoul launched the trial operation of mini solar power generators (small enough to be installed on an apartment veranda) in 2013. Prior to that, solar power generators (panels) could only be installed on the rooftops of single-household homes, as they required a substantial amount of space. Furthermore, as solar panels cannot be moved after installation, it was impossible to install them on apartment buildings. The mini solar power generator, however, overcomes these disadvantages; its small size and simplicity allows it to be easily installed on the veranda of an apartment. Depending on the amount of electricity used by the household, the mini solar power generator reduces electricity bills by KRW 60,000 to 210,000 annually. As of June 2016, they have been installed by 7,176 households.
With their wide rooftops, schools are one of the best places to install solar power generators. So far, solar panels have been installed at 304 schools in Seoul.
If there were solar panels on the rooftops of all 1,400 public schools in Seoul, they would generate a total of 134 megawatts of electricity annually. Another step the city is taking is to offer funding to encourage the installation of mini solar panels in the communal areas of apartments and other types of multi-unit dwellings.
|Solar panel at Samgaksan High School||Solar panel on the rooftop of a school building|
The buildings that are eligible to receive such support are multi-unit dwellings in Seoul that use an average of 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity or less per household. The larger the amount of electricity used, the shorter the payback period. Also, as the city provides KRW 500,000 per kilowatt to cover installation fees, anyone who wishes to install a mini solar power generator can do so at virtually no initial cost.
In addition, those who donate their remaining funds to the Asia Climate Change Fund or the Korean government’s solar energy rental project will receive a full refund for any out-of-pocket expenses. Through such funding measures, 880 apartments in Dongjak-gu installed 102.6-kilowatt mini solar power generators in their elevators and hallways in July 2015 alone.
Thanks to its mini solar power generator, the apartment featured in this photo reduced its annual communal electricity costs by KRW 530,000. By 2023, it is expected to reduce its electricity costs by KRW 3.28 million per month.
|Solar panels on the roof of an apartment building||Seoul wins Green Energy award at 2014 City Climate Leadership Awards|
On September 22, 2014, at New York’s Manhattan Center, Seoul’s diverse efforts to become an energy-independent city were official recognized. At the 2014 City Climate Leadership Awards, co-hosted by Siemens and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Seoul was honored with the Green Energy award in recognition of its remarkable efforts to promote the use of solar energy. Seoul’s goal for the future is the simultaneous achievement of energy reduction and energy production. To achieve this goal, the city will continue to expand its support for the installation of solar panels in small, unused spaces throughout the city and engage in further efforts to establish itself as a leading energy-independent city in the international community.