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Is Pyongyang going Green?

Just outside the Sci-Tech Complex, is a large solar field.

Even though North Korea does not publish any figures on the use of such energy sources, solar panels can be found in many apartment buildings in Pyongyang. Many street lamps are also powered by the sun.

In March, the government mouthpiece Arirang Meari had reported that North Korea is increasingly lighting Pyongyang with solar-powered street and garden lights. Other state-run media also said the country was producing its own solar panels, based on research at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University.

It is believed that North Korea relies on hydropower for about 60 per cent of its electricity generation, but such facilities are particularly vulnerable to droughts. In 2015, for instance, the country suffered from what it called its worst drought of a century.


According to David Von Hippel, a researcher with the Nautilus Institute in Berkeley who has been studying North Korea’s power infrastructure for more than 20 years, North Koreans are finding other ways to generate power as the availability of electricity in their country is “quite poor”.

“Even in Pyongyang it’s not so good, in many other cities it’s practically non-existent … With the availability of inexpensive solar panel and battery systems from China, they’ve been able to buy these buy these small solar panels and use them just for a few basic things. They’ve used them for a few LED lights, for DVD players, and to charge cell phones,” he explained.

It is estimated that at least 100,000 North Korean households in the country of 24 million had acquired solar panels by the end of 2014.

Said Dr Von Hippel: “These panels maybe provide on the order of tenth of one percent of the electricity that the country as a whole needs. But they provide in very important ways for very important end uses, end uses that are very important to people, so that’s why they’re worth the fairly large – for North Korean households – investments in the systems.”


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