Electricity shortages continue due to dilapidated infrastructure

Ryongmyong Street
Ryongmyong Street. Image: Sogwang

The major districts and factories of Pyongyang are continually being supplied with electricity, despite less electricity being available for other areas of the city. Such energy discrimination is rampant even in the relatively affluent capital city and sheds light on just how serious North Korea’s electricity problems are.

“People living in Jung, Pyongchon, Sosong, Moranbong and other districts are getting around five hours of electricity per day, while other areas are only getting one to two hours per day,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK.

Pyongyang’s Jung District is home to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s office building along with many other government agencies and the houses of high-level officials. Pyongchon and Sosong districts are close to Jung District and feature the famous Ryomyong Street and Future Scientist’s Street.

“The supply of electricity to areas outside Jung District has fallen a lot,” said the source. “Last year, people got around two to three hours of electricity at night, but now it’s just one to two hours.”

“Families that pay for electricity in Euros receive special supplies of electricity,” added the source. “They enjoy up to eight hours of electricity in the evening hours.”

The authorities also routinely prioritize the supply of electricity to factories over regular homes.

“Factories have their own dedicated supplies of electricity, so they get more regular electricity than homes,” the source added. “Only factories considered critical to the national economy are given such priority.”

The Kimjongtae Electric Train Factory, which manufactures passenger carriages, electric locomotives and streetcars, receives a steady supply of electricity, but other factories that conduct contract manufacturing for export have to continually make requests or give bribes to the electricity department to receive energy, the source explained. Kim Jong Un visited the Kimjongtae Electric Train Factory in July 2015.

“Recently, the authorities have cracked down on factories that are operating outside of hours designated for the use of electricity, and factories breaking this rule face punishment,” said a separate source in Pyongyang, adding that the authorities ban factories from operating during these times to prevent the manufacturing of poorly made products caused by unreliable electricity supplies.

“Factories and universities are not supplied with enough electricity. Only places considered important are given electricity,” he said. “Even factories that receive 24 hours of electricity sometimes face blackouts, which throws everything into disarray.”

Daily NK reported in April through multiple sources that Pyongyang’s electricity supply was so poor that the production of gifts for Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebrations faced difficulties.

Thermoelectric power plant in Pyongyang
Thermoelectric power plant in Pyongyang. Image: Sogwang

The dilapidated state of power plants in the country is one of the major reasons for the state of affairs.

“The Pyongyang Thermal Energy Power Plant provides electricity to the entire city, but it’s so old that the plant’s turbines, power generators and boilers have to be repaired. The East Pyongyang Thermal Energy Power Plant built in the 1990s is too small to provide sufficient power to the city,” an additional source in the capital told Daily NK.

“Only four of the 12 power generators at the Pukchang Thermal Energy Power Plant are operating,” he said. “Normally, six power generators would be undergoing repairs while the other six would be operating, but only four are operating now.”

North Korea needs to urgently fix its power plants to produce enough power for the country, he said, but the authorities are only focusing on increasing coal production. The source pointed out that the power plants must first be repaired and improved for the electricity issues to be fully resolved.

“The authorities are emphasizing self-sufficiency, but that alone will not improve the electricity situation,” he said, asserting that the only solution is for the country’s infrastructure to be completely revamped.”