Solar panel in North Korea use rises as hopes dim for government solution to energy problems

Solar panels on a building in North Kore
Solar panels on a building in North Korea. Image: Sokwang website

Due to chronic electricity shortages, solar power use in North Korea is rising, while the quality of technology available is improving. North Koreans are turning to solar power in droves as their hopes for a state fix to the country’s electricity problems continues to wane.

“Solar panels have become so powerful that people can turn on the lights and watch television without any issues,” said a North Pyongan Province-based source on March 4.

This is a positive development for ordinary North Koreans he said, as “people here aren’t expecting the state to do anything about the electricity problem.”

“Those with an average standard of living in Sinuiju are all using solar panels in their homes,” he continued. “The smaller panels are 1 m square, while the bigger ones are 150 cm wide and 80 cm long. These are enough to watch TV and turn on three or four lights.”

Most families use a single solar panel, meaning that they are not guaranteed a constant supply of electricity. It is common practice to save the energy generated during the daytime to power the lights and heating at night when needed.

Many are also using LEDs and other energy saving products to minimize energy use.

New and improved solar panels have been launched in the country with the aim of reducing energy use.

The North Korean government has long failed to supply regular electricity, so people in the past had to buy transformers to enable them to connect the panels to household appliances.

“Now, however, the solar panels come with batteries and transformers,” said a source in South Pyongan Province. “The transformers are installed on solar panels made in China for use in North Korea so people don’t need to buy them separately anymore.”

These transformerless solar panels for household use have been sold in North Korea’s markets for several years, but are only recently being used by consumers.

“State-supplied electricity is only available three hours a day, so it may not be available when needed,” a separate source in North Pyongan Province said.

“People are now saying that there’s no need to worry about state-supplied electricity – they’ve got it handled with solar panels!”

Solar panels at a power transmission and distribution unit in North Pyongan Province, North Korea
Solar panels installed at a power transmission and distribution facility in North Pyongan Province, North Korea. Image: Sokwang website

Experts say that solar panels are helping to improve the electricity situation in places like North Korea where infrastructure is poor.

Kwak Dae Jong, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade (KIET)’s Energy Industry Research Department, said in a report titled, “The Current North Korean Energy and Electricity Situation and Inter-Korean Solar Panel Cooperation Plan,” that the poor condition of power transmission and distribution in North Korea means that the country loses a lot of electricity, suggesting “there is great potential to establish a microgrid (a localized group of electricity sources that is connected to, and operates with, the existing electricity grid) of solar panels.”

Some experts point out, however, that North Korea’s solar panels make up a very small proportion of the broader electricity supply and that there are further limitations placed on technological development due to international sanctions. It is believed that it will therefore be difficult for solar panels to supply industries and resolve the fundamental issues afflicting the country’s energy supplies.

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