$27 billion. Imagine the number of penny sweets you could get for that. But rather than spend the money on low cost confectionaries, this is the huge sum that, in 2016, South Korea announced it would be investing in renewable energies over the following five years.

The money is being used to help to lower greenhouse emissions in the East Asian country, which more than doubled between 1990 and 2012. Updates will include expanding current renewable energy resources, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and improving the sustainable transport infrastructure in the country.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, cities, Suwon

To this end, several state-led initiatives have already been launched, such as an emissions cap-and-trade-scheme, as well as the creation of a National Strategy for Green Growth. But it’s not just the government that is intent on increasing sustainability in South Korea. The general population too is backing the bid – as evinced by the brilliant work of the inhabitants of Suwon.

The Sharing Solar Power Project is a grass roots venture that was started by the citizens of the satellite city. The social cooperative invests in solar power as a way of generating both sustainable energy and financial returns.

Money garnered from the project is split equally between supplementary solar schemes and social welfare initiatives. Where the money goes is decided democratically by the 271 members of the cooperative. As of February 2017, the project had accumulated some $200,000 in profits.

The cooperative currently has its sights set on installing 2MW of photovoltaic systems, such as solar panels, in Suwon by 2020. Should this plan see the light of day, it will help to cut carbon emissions in the city by 1,000 tons of CO2 equivalent annually. This has the potential to reduce both air pollution and associated illnesses in Suwon.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, cities, Suwon

Social welfare projects supported by the scheme, meanwhile, are designed to benefit the city’s energy poor. The aim is to reduce the impact of heat and cold temperature stresses on vulnerable people, such as the impoverished, the elderly and the unemployed. In the process, the project helps to build social cohesion in the city, an important factor in the general welfare of a community.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the Sharing Solar Power Project was conceived in Suwon, where there are lofty ambitions to become one of the top eco cities in the world. However, what may raise a few eyebrows is that in a city sprouting more green solutions than you can shake a sustainably sourced stick at, a community led project such as this has grown to become one of its key strategies.

Suwon has set itself a mid-term target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. While in the longer-term the city is pursuing a 40 per cent reduction in CO2 releases by 2030. The city is on track to reach both targets early, a projected success in large part thanks to the bright ideas of its citizens – more power to them.

Cities100 is a mission shared by Sustainia, C40 and Realdania to find the 100 leading city solutions to climate change. Read the 2016 publication, and follow the conversation online using #Cities100

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