Rural Residents in North Korea Watch TV Using a Bicycle Generator

North Korean people manage to solve the country’s chronic shortage of electricity on their own.

48-year-old Shin Ju Il (pseudonym) who was visiting relatives in Yanji, China said
to a reporter from Daily NK on March 13, “These days, those well-to-do in rural areas use an electric generator to power lights and watch TV.”

“People overcome the shortage of electricity on their own. They import a large number of batteries from China. In addition, there are many households which have a bicycle generator,” Mr. Shin said, “Even though no electricity is provided by the state, people can manage to get by. Indeed, they get used to the shortage of electricity and can solve the problem on their own.”

◆ Motor Vehicle Batteries are the most sought after item among urban population.

Mr. Shin said, “There is a big difference between the city and country when it comes to how to solve the shortage of electricity. In the city, many people use motor vehicle batteries which are rechargeable. ”

Mr. Shin said, “In the city, electricity is provided twice per day from eight a.m. to 1 p.m. and from eight p.m. to eleven p.m. During those times, people charge their batteries so that they can light their house and watch TV in the evening.”

Unlike their counterparts in the city, many people in the rural areas do not use motor vehicle batteries because they need not only the battery but also a 220v converter, current transformer and low voltage circuit breaker to watch TV and video, Mr. Shin said.

“Motor vehicle batteries are a little bit expensive. However the battery can be used to power lights and watch TV and video, most affluent families have one” Mr. Shin said.

A fully charged battery is known to produce electricity enough to run a Chinese black-and-white TV for five to six hours and color TV for two to three hours.

◆ Bicycle Generators are used to produce electricity in the country.

Shin said in the rural areas people solve the shortage of electricity differently. “In the country, people use a bicycle generator because they have to produce electricity by themselves.”

“Many rural villages have received no electricity from the state since the March of Tribulation (Mass starvation period in the 1990s). Even if the state provides electricity, some rural villages would not be able to receive it because electric poles were uprooted at many places,” Mr. Shin said. He added, “So, a great number of rural people began to use a bicycle generator to generate electricity on their own.”

People connect a motor generator to the rear wheel of a bicycle and pedal the bicycle in order to produce electricity. Although this method is laborious, it is the only way for rural people to procure electricity.

A North Korean merchant who was buying goods in Yanji also said to the reporter, “Electricity generated from a bicycle is not steady. So people need a motor vehicle battery. People charge the battery using a bicycle generator and use the charged battery to power lights and watch TV.”

The merchant said, “Since it costs a considerable amount of money to have all these equipment needed to produce electricity, many rural people cannot even dream of having this power generating device.”

“In North Korea, it costs 70,000 North Korean Won to get a used motor vehicle battery and 120,000 to 160,000 North Korean won to get a new one. Considering the availability of repair services, people prefer to buy the domestically produced ‘Daedong River Battery’ to its Chinese counterpart even though Chinese one is of better quality,” said the merchant.

When asked whether North Korean people complain about the shortage of power, the merchant said, “Do you think the government has ever provided anything for its people? These days, people have become accustomed to making a living with their own hands even if there is no provision from the government.”