Solar energy is making inroads into North Korea’s power sector as residents are looking to install panels to have the lights on, at least partially, as the regime is failing to supply its citizens with electricity while prioritizing power to factories.
North Korea, under sanctions and banned from importing petroleum products, is importing such from China and Russia and is thought to be active in smuggling oil products in and coal exports out. The country has long relied on old coal-fired power plants and other plants running on fuel oil, as well as hydropower generation from facilities built decades ago with Soviet help.
Hydropower continues to generate most of the renewable energy in North Korea, but the country “appears to have identified the benefits of harnessing renewable energy in the mid-2000s,” Martyn Williams, senior fellow at the Washington DC-based think-tank Stimson Center and primarily working on the center’s 38 North project about North Korea, wrote earlier this year.
There have been claims in North Korea that the country has been assembling solar panels from solar cells, yet it is unclear whether the cells are manufactured locally or imported, according to Williams. Related: Suriname Oil Boom Back On Track As New Discoveries Excite Investors
Defectors from North Korea have told Natalia Slavney, a Research Analyst at the Stimson Center and Assistant Editor for 38 North, that personal solar installations have soared as citizens look to cater for themselves amid an “astounding lack of state-provided electricity.”
“While alternative forms of energy—such as diesel power and illegal power grid hook-ups—exist, for many, the answer is a solar panel,” Slavney wrote in May.
“Defector interviews, along with DPRK state media and satellite imagery, point to an uptick in personal solar installations over the last decade as many citizens have seemingly given up expecting the government to provide adequate and consistent electricity and are adopting a “do-it-yourself” attitude in order to live their lives,” she added.
The solar panels are small but generate enough power to provide at least 100 watts and run a small appliance each evening.
North Koreans in government and party jobs with more money use an illegal power grid hook-up to the industrial electricity supply, one defector told 38 North. Others living in rural areas only have electricity only several days a year, on New Year’s Eve, national holidays, and days to mark the birthdays of North Korean leaders.
So, for many North Koreans, solar power has become a way to have electricity to power some appliances in the evening, if the day has been sunny to allow charging a battery with solar energy.
“North Korean citizens buying and installing solar panels at their homes illustrates not only the challenges they face but the initiative they show in replacing basic services the state doesn’t provide,” the Stimson Center’s Martyn Williams told the Financial Times.
Solar power is estimated to account for around 7% of North Korea’s electricity supply, a report by the Seoul-based Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) showed earlier this year.
North Korean households are thought to have installed some 2.88 million solar panels, most of which have been imported from China since 2009, according to the report. Around 1.63 million solar panels are estimated to be bought from China between 2009 and March 2018, suggesting that another 1.25 million solar panels have been smuggled into North Korea, the report by the South Korean institute found.
“An insufficient and unstable power supply is one of the critical challenges North Korea struggles to address,” 38 North’s Slavney wrote in May.
“While solar energy has provided one way for citizens to better cope with this reality, it is incapable of supplying enough power to satisfy everyday operations and needs.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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