"This is not only a symbol of low-carbon, green growth, but also represents a landmark on the path the world should take," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said at the opening ceremony for the Shihwa station on the west coast near Seoul, the country's news agency Yonhap reports.
The 254,000-kilowatt facility, expected to be fully completed in December, began partial operation earlier this month, powered by six of its 10 generators. France's 240,000-kilowatt Rance Tidal Power Station is currently the world's largest.
A 7.9-mile dam has existed at the site since 1994 when the government attempted to create a freshwater lake. When Shihwa Lake became polluted, the tidal power plant was proposed as a way of cleaning the water.
The plant can provide enough electricity for 500,000 people, the government says.
"Depending on the results of Shihwa, we can justify further development of tidal power," says Keyyong Hong, director of marine structure and plant research at the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute.
Lee said the plant will save the resource-scarce country more than 860,000 barrels of oil or about $93 million a year.
One of the world's top energy importers, South Korea ranks fifth for oil and second for liquefied natural gas. Seoul has accelerated investment in foreign energy reserves as it seeks to increase the country's self-reliance rate of oil and gas to 20 percent from its current level of 15 percent, up from 4.2 percent in 2007.
The president also said the new plant would reduce South Korea's carbon emissions by 320,000 tons.
In August 2008, Lee said "low-carbon green growth" would become the country's new vision for overcoming the challenges of climate change and a looming carbon-based energy crisis.
Lee's green growth policy calls for lessening South Korea's dependence on fossil fuels and promoting the development of alternative energy sources.
The government's Green Energy Industry Development Strategies released in September 2008 proposed a total of six tidal power plants along South Korea's western coast.
During Shihwa's inauguration Monday, Lee called for the development of new energy sources, stressing that the world cannot rely on fossil fuels forever because resources are limited, but also because it worsens climate change.
Yet imported coal currently accounts for 43 percent of all fuels used in power generation in South Korea.