Renewable energy sources for the new embassy in Seoul

View of the building from the embassy’s inner courtyard with Seoul’s high-rise skyline in the background.
Located in the centre of the city, Switzerland's new embassy in Seoul makes it convenient for staff to commute by public transport. © FOBL

The Swiss embassy in Seoul, South Korea, was demolished in 2014 and a temporary solution found. Since February 2019, the new embassy building has offered the opportunity to optimise sustainable working practices. From now on, energy will be generated from solar and geothermal sources.

Sustainability was the primary focus throughout the planning and implementation stages of the building project. Every effort was made during the construction of the new embassy in South Korea to use as little material as possible and to keep material transport distances to a minimum. In addition, the integrated planning approach adopted by the project, which took account of local conditions, included energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Solar and geothermal energy

The embassy makes optimum use of all available renewable energy sources: the building is equipped with solar panels to generate electricity, while a thermal solar system meets the building's hot water requirements.

The embassy is also powered by geothermal energy via geothermal probes. A U-shaped pipe system filled with circulating thermal fluid is installed in a borehole in the ground. The probes extract heat from the ground and transfer it to a series of heat pumps. This geothermal technology provides the embassy with an additional source of renewable energy for everyday use. The solar and geothermal power that the embassy generates covers around 75% of its total energy needs.

When the idea was floated to invest in renewables, the timing seemed less than ideal, as electricity in South Korea is currently rather inexpensive. However, given that experts predict price rises in the near future, the proposed investment will quickly pay for itself. These comprehensive sustainability measures therefore make sound financial sense.

Aerial view of the embassy showing the solar panels on the roof and the gardens.
As well as generating power from solar and geothermal sources, the new Swiss embassy in Seoul uses only rainwater to irrigate its gardens. © FOBL

Further steps towards sustainability

In order to save water, the embassy uses only rainwater to water its gardens and clean the buildings.

Recycled materials were a priority during the selection of building materials for the new building. Much of the embassy’s façade is made from recyclable concrete and wood.

The building project also addressed the challenge of making workforce mobility more sustainable. The location of the new embassy was deliberately chosen because of its close proximity to two underground train stations. Now, the location makes it convenient for staff to commute by public transport. Also, the embassy’s new service vehicle is a hybrid.

In addition, all of the services offered by the embassy are now centralised. The fact that all embassy staff work under the same roof will boost efficiency. The embassy has a multi-room layout, which saves space and creates a more efficient workspace.

Thanks to this raft of sustainability measures, the new embassy satisfies all Minergie ECO label requirements. As well as meeting the well-known Minergie building standards, the building also takes into account the aspects of health and building ecology. Health-related aspects include the use of natural daylight, soundproofing and indoor air quality, while construction aspects cover factors such as embodied energy and sustainable design.