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 is the World Economic Forum doing to improve 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 the world’s population is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Urban Transformation supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner and more inclusive, and to improve citizens’ quality of life:

  • Creating a net zero carbon future for cities
    The Forum’s Net Zero Carbon Cities programme brings together businesses from 10 sectors, with city, regional and national government leaders who are implementing a toolbox of solutions to accelerate progress towards a net-zero future.
  • Helping citizens stay healthy
    The Forum is working with cities around the world to create innovative urban partnerships, to help residents find a renewed focus on their physical and mental health.
  • Developing smart city governance
    Cities, local governments, companies, start-ups, research institutions and non-profit organizations are testing and implementing global norms and policy standards to ensure that data is used safely and ethically.
  • Closing the global infrastructure investment gap
    Development banks, governments and businesses are finding new ways to work together to mobilize private sector capital for infrastructure financing.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

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.