Look up as you walk the streets of South Korea’s capital and you’ll see a renewable-energy revolution taking place. By 2022, every public building and 1 million homes in the city are set to be powered by solar.

The Solar City Seoul project is part of a programme to wean Asia’s fourth-largest economy off its dependence on coal, gas and nuclear for power generation. The country aims to generate 35% of its electricity from renewables by 2040.

The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which benchmarks countries’ energy systems and supports them as they move to cleaner power sources, ranks South Korea 48th out of 115 nations surveyed. Its capital wants to lead the transition.

Image: Statista

Solar community

Seoul is engaging citizens and businesses with a host of initiatives to make solar more affordable, accessible, and in some cases mandatory. The Solar City Seoul project has already added enough new capacity to cut more than 100 tonnes of CO2.

Its government says it will fit panels on every public building with suitable space by 2022 and help a quarter of the city’s 4 million households install them, too, in a bid to further reduce CO2 emissions by more than half a million tonnes.

Seoul’s pioneering solar project received its second international climate change action award this year. More than 160,000 homes in the city already use solar panels to generate their own electricity. A rental scheme has proved a good way to boost take-up.

The city now plans to go even further and designate whole streets, and even districts, to showcase its solar revolution.

A city centre square is already being transformed into Seoul’s first solar street, with solar-powered lights, benches and even trash cans. The suburb of Magok plans to become a smart energy district, using solar to make itself at least 30% energy self-sufficient

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

Powering tourism

Seoul hopes that by creating solar power landmarks it can emulate the success of Europe’s pioneering solar city – Freiburg, Germany – where the suburb of Vauban has become a tourist attraction thanks to its innovative solar-friendly architecture.

Seoul is hosting an international solar power conference next year and is a member of C40 Cities group, which brings together the leaders of megacities that have committed to addressing climate change.

South Korea also plans to use hydrogen to power three new cities, in areas from home heating to transport, by 2022. It is part of a wider ambition to power 30% of the nation’s energy needs with hydrogen by 2040.