Renewable-energy project manager Epuron said Thursday it has flipped the switch on its firstsolarproject in South Korea, a country some analysts have called one of the next big markets for solar power.

The Germany-based company said the $14.5 million, 2-megawatt solar plant, which it built for South Korean energy firm Samchully, was designed to showcase renewable energy in the Asian country and establish Epuron’s presence in a growing new market.

The power plant occupies a spot at the 2008 Hampyeong World Butterfly and Insect Expo in the southern region of the country. The expo draws about 2 million visitors per year, making it a good location for raising the public’s awareness of alternative energy.

Epuron, owned by Conergy in Germany, said the plant is expected to generate 2.4 gigawatt hours per year, enough to power about 550 households. The plant also would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as 1,500 tons per year, the company said.

Epuron, which has a South Korean subsidiary, wants to cash in on South Korea’s increasing appetite for energy – the country’s power use jumps about 7 percent each year. At the same time, the country is the world’s fourth-largest oil importer.

The South Korean government has invested heavily in home-grown projects to develop new energy sources and to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Modeled after the German government’s successful efforts in promoting solar energy, South Korea has provided low-interest loans to solar-energy project developers since 2004.

It also pays 40 euro cents ($0.62) for every kilowatt-hour of solar energy flowing to the public grid, an incentive that lasts 15 years for now. Starting in 2010, the government plans to pay up to 33 euro cents ($0.51) for each kilowatt-hour for 20 years.

The government has plenty of experience in nurturing and building an entire tech sector. It has pumped billions of dollars in financial incentives, research and marketing to build up its semiconductor, wireless-communication and consumer-electronics industries. Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, for example, are among the world’s largest companies in some of those fields.

Competition for the South Korean market already is intense. Another German firm, SunTechnics, began building a $170 million solar-power plant in South Korea’s southwest region last year. The plan is expected to generate up to 20 megawatts.