Seoul Subway’s Not Very Brilliant Energy Conservation Method

Oh, this is brilliantly idiotic.

Like, The Onion-quality, they-wrote-this-as-a-joke type stupid.

At least, if I understood this report correctly, and it isn’t bullshit.

(If it news report is bullshit, or if I’ve got things wrong, please, I beg of you, tell me; relieve me of the wide-eyed disbelief and horror. Video should load below. Sorry for the auto-launch.)

YTN’s news report on the subway mildew smell of summer 2012

Apparently the done thing in Seoul this year is to keep air conditioning systems set to “above 26 degrees Celsius” in order to “conserve energy.”

As far as I understand the news report linked above, the people running the public transit system have come up with a brilliant solution for how to do this on the subway trains of the Seoul metro system. To make sure the temperatures don’t drop too low (and violate this quota), they’re running the air conditioners and the heaters alternately heater.

Apparently, heating systems in Korea are so magical that they don’t consume energy.

This has led to a lot more condensation, and a nasty, mildewy smell in some places, so the city will need to clean the ventilation system better in the future.

So, if this is all correct, the net savings of energy was…? That would have to be a net loss, wouldn’t it, if they’re keeping both the cooling and heating systems running?

Please, please, someone, tell me I’ve understood this all wrong. Tell me that I’ve got my facts all mixed up, or the article is bullshit. Because, seriously, this is almost kind of hard to believe.

(Not quite, I’ve seen things stupider than this before, but it certainly is at the outer limit of creditability.)

Speaking of energy savings: there has not yet been a major campaign to get people to close their windows while the air-conditioning is running. That seems to be a behaviour quite impossible to eradicate completely here. I’ve trained my students not to do it in classrooms, at least in my classrooms, but nonetheless I see it everywhere I go here in the summertime.

(It wouldn’t hurt to require buildings where the foyer space is cooled to install rotating doors, either; so many such buildings sit with half their front doors open, and the air conditioners on full blast, all day long.)

7 thoughts on “Seoul Subway’s Not Very Brilliant Energy Conservation Method

  1. I would believe it. There was a type of heating system used in the US for a while (that now is in violation of building codes, for soon-to-be-obvious reasons) where all air, coming into the building, would be either heated or cooled to 60 degrees F (15C), and from that baseline, would then be (usually) heated to the desired temperature. The building I encountered with this was in Worcester, MA, where temperatures range from -10F (-23C) in the winter to 105F (40C) in the summer. (And humid!) So since 60F is a bit chilly for most people, during the summer they’d run both air conditioner chillers AND heaters simultaneously.

  2. Good lord! I’m not totally surprised at this kind of stupidity as a fossil from older days; it’s more shocking when it’s a newly implemented policy, as it seems to be in Seoul. But yeah, I’m not surprised to see it in other places, especially in the US. (Where, I have to say, aircon on 24 hours a day didn’t seem to be shocking to some people. It still shocks me, though I confess I do it sometimes here in the summer, just so I don’t get ill from the heat. Just, not at 22C or anything.)

    I will say one thing, I’ve long wondered whether the system in Korea is more or less energy efficient; instead of heating a building, only rooms are heated within the building. That means that, say, in a university or an apartment building, the hallways are chilly (or at times, colder than the outdoors, depending on temperature shifts outdoors). I suppose it would take an engineer to tell whether the heat dissipates faster from a bunch of tiny rooms into the hallways, or from a whole warm building into the outside… I am very curious about that.

  3. Just guessing, but by ‘warm air’ they probably meant ‘un-cooled air’ since air conditioners tend to double as air blower / circulator.

    About forcing individuals to close windows;
    As you probably heard, from July, businesses will be fined 300 thousand won if they leave their doors open while the air conditioner is running inside.
    As for fining individuals, houses and apartments, or even a campaign to get people to bother closing windows: … In an election year? Are you kidding? :)

  4. regarding your last point about installing revolving doors: That would work, or they could somehow convince people going through to close the doors behind them – then, we could probably find entrance ways where all the doors are unlocked! I so often see a row of eight doors, with all but two locked- I am sure it is to reduce heating/cooling costs from doors left open.

  5. Junsok,

    Oh, thanks. While still bizarre and kinda pointless — Why cool a space and then pump warm air into it? Why not let the heat seep back in slowly? — that would be only marginally wasteful of the saved energy. Hm, maybe they’ll figure out the idea of air circulation one of those days… that would be nice…

    And actually, I’ve been so busy I haven’t followed the news much (except what I hear from Miss Jiwaku), so I hadn’t heard about the fine from this July… that is interesting news, though I usually find that law enforcement in Korea is, when it depends on laws being enforced by actual human beings in interaction with other human beings, kind of lacking in effectiveness. (Traffic laws being a stunning example of the non-enforcement of generally serviceable laws governing right of way, where vehicles can and should go, and so on.)

    Much as I dislike DRM, I would say a code-is-law (in the words of Lawrence Lessig) sort of approach would be likelier to work… assuming the code is building codes.

    As for fining individual citizens, I wouldn’t advocate that even in a non-election year. What you need is an advertising campaign. Have hot celebrities hopping into bed with relatable people — Hyori, Wonbin, Kim Yuna, even all of Girls’ Generation turning up at some office and reprimanding the 사장님… stuff like that — and then insist that oppah, jagi, yeobo, or Manager Lee close the window right now, since leaving it open with the air con on is wasteful and didn’t you know, Seoul is short of energy.

    Surprises Aplenty,

    Hm, is that the real reason doors are all locked? I see it often enough in springtime and autumn, when heat and cooling aren’t even being used; I assumed there was some other reason (or set of reasons), including what I take to be an inherent aesthetic attraction to bottlenecks applied to human movement.

    But also, someone told me once it was an old practice, locking most of the doors on a building and usually the central ones. (Like at a Buddhist temple.) *Shrug.* Maybe Junsok can fill us in on that one, too. I’ve asked Miss Jiwaku before and she didn’t have any idea.

    Also, all, note this tweet in response my post: apparently a lot of office workers are responding to the change in air conditioning regulations by running more fans in their offices. One wonders whether the net savings adds up to a net savings.

    Code is Law would be best implemented by greener building codes generally — that is, constructing buildings so that less brute-force heating and cooling is necessary — but that’s true pretty much everywhere in the developed world at the moment. And we like to think we’re high tech. Meh.

  6. It makes me miss the good old days, when the movies in Korea always opened with a 5-10 minute PSA. “Don’t be a drunken lout when you go camping.” “Don’t drive all crazy.” “Don’t turn your air-con below 26 degrees.” That sort of stuff.

    I doubt they did much good, but they were fun to watch (especially that camping one, which ended with the drunken lout family’s daughter dead in a pond).

    1. Noah,

      Man, I missed all the good stuff. When I got here in 2002, the only PSAs like that I ever saw were 40 minutes long, at the beginning of university festivals, about North Korea. Seriously: some famous band was invited to perform, and I was invited to come listen, and then we all sat in the amphitheater, watching a documentary about starving North Korean children.

      I was like, “Wait, why are they playing this?”

      I was told, “Because we must reunify with North Korea.”

      “Okay,” I said, “But why are they playing this video now? Like, before a concert?”

      My baffled interlocutor, who by the way was fluent in English, said, “Because we must reunify with North Korea.”

      Anyway, I don’t know if those long cinema PSAs did much good, but I got the impression that campaigns had been somewhat effective when addressing other issues, at least in the short term. (I remember a short-term decline in smoking was very apparent during a campaign in, was it 2002 or 2003? After some smoker comedian died. IT picked up again after a while, but summer is short enough that that wouldn’t matter.)

      But now, I really just wanna get my hands on archival footage. Seriously, the drunken lout one… it sounds like the (wonderful) original Hanyeo film: Don’t cheat on your wife with your housemaid, or you, your wife, and your children will all DIE.

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