At the end of the 300kph train ride from Seoul to the city of Daejeon in the centre of South Korea, a monk draped in brown and grey robes drums on a gourd in a reminder to travellers to donate to the local temple.
Just behind him at the Daejeon high-speed-train station glimmer rows of bluish photovoltaic panels - reminders of the rapid modernisation in a country that has left centuries-old traditions intact alongside the new.
South Korea has transformed itself from an impoverished, postwar nation under military rule to a democracy in half a century. That has been possible in part thanks to an aggressive energy policy of securing fossil-fuel resources abroad and developing a domestic nuclear industry - necessary survival techniques for a nation that must import 97 per cent of its energy.
"Korea is like an island, energy-wise," says Jooho Whang, the president of the Korea Institute of Energy Research, a national renewables centre in Daejeon. "Electricity does not come from over the border. We have to supply ourselves."
Concerns over global warming and fickle oil markets have sparked the country's latest plan - to give up growth driven by fossil fuels in favour of what Lee Myung-bak, the president, calls "green growth".
The government has made the development of clean technology a mainstay of economic policy.
When the global recession struck in 2008, Mr Lee responded like a modern-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with a "Green New Deal" that pumped spending equivalent to 2 per cent of GDP into river restoration, forestry, recycling and low-emissions transport from 2009 to this year.
By last year, some 2.5 trillion won (Dh8.14 billion) from the government and private sector had gone towards renewables research and development. The aim is to raise the contribution of renewables to the nation's power supply from today's 2.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent by 2030.
That mission has become more urgent since last year, when meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant raised public concerns over the safety of atomic energy, which provides a third of South Korea's electricity.
Questions over safety and transparency arose again last month when the cooling systems at South Korea's oldest plant failed during a shutdown and the operator did not report the accident immediately.
"After the Fukushima accident, people worry about the safety of nuclear power plants," says Mr Whang, who is also a nuclear scientist. "To compensate for their worries and also to fulfil the energy supply needs in Korea, we need to provide renewables, too."
It is a short drive from the Daejeon train station to Mr Whang's office at the Korea institute.
Along the way lies what remains of old Daejeon - where signs are only in Korean rather than the bilingual versions in Seoul - and rows of anonymous concrete apartment towers. The institute is on the modern side of the town, home to a cluster of national academic centres and the research arms of conglomerates.
On the institute's campus, the world's energy questions play out in miniature. More than 250 researchers work here, and the total annual budget, mostly from the knowledge economy ministry, is US$148 million (Dh543.6m).
What looks like a petrol station but instead dispenses hydrogen sits just around the corner from a 2 megawatt coal-fired power plant that feeds greenhouse-gas emissions into a carbon-capture laboratory. Clear solvents, poured into a jungle of pipes, turn brown with carbon - the idea is to trap the emissions from power plants and factories before they can harm the atmosphere.
Nearby, in a lab so clean that visitors must don hairnets and be blasted by air jets before entering, researchers coat plates of glass with combinations of rare elements, hoping to create a recipe for the world's most efficient solar panel.
Creating panels that can produce energy even with low sunlight is of particular importance to South Korea, home to neither the blazing sunshine of the Gulf nor the gusts of the North Sea.
"We are not originally endowed with good wind and solar energy resources or for that matter geothermal," says Young Soogil, the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, which steers green economic policy. "So we have to fill the remaining energy gap with the other fuels, and we would rather rely on nuclear than fossil fuels."
The solution for South Korea is to combine several technologies that by themselves might not be effective, says Mr Whang.
"There are so many sectors, so many sectors competing with each other," he says. "But nowadays, competing may not be the solution to have matured technology to provide enough energy to society.
"Photovoltaic companies and wind generation companies - they are all different companies, so they don't know how to integrate the systems … These kinds of technologies all have to be put together."
A two-storey house at the energy research institute provides an example. With a kitchen, hardwood floors and a balcony, it covers all the suburban bases. Bluish walls harness the sun's heat for water, photovoltaic panels produce electricity, and four layers of insulation keep summers cool and winters warm. In the basement, researchers monitor a hybrid solar and geothermal heat pump.
The "Zero Energy Solar House", as it is called, costs about 15 per cent more than an ordinary house to build but creates energy savings of 85 per cent, according to the institute. More such houses are being built to accommodate 138 families in the province of Chungnam, and the institute is in talks with Kuwait to collaborate on similar housing techniques there.
This is South Korea's humbler answer to Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's $16bn carbon-neutral development for 40,000 residents.
On the island of Jeju, a volcanic island off South Korea's southern coast, 15 researchers from the institute are working to scale up the principles of the solar house.
More than 29bn won has gone into building labs, an experiment centre and other facilities to test the best combinations of the world's clean technologies. Jeju will be something like Samsø, the Danish island renowned for being energy self-sufficient. But, Mr Whang adds, "It will be better."