Pyongyang has signaled an increased interest in using renewable energy to address its national energy crisis and economic challenges, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blames mostly on U.S. and U.N. sanctions. However, North Korea has only used its nuclear program to develop weapons to date, contributing no resources to generating life-saving electricity through nuclear energy. As a result, it is likely that the success of North Korean renewable energy projects will depend on the willingness of key allies, such as China, to facilitate or assist with its development.
The pursuit of energy-producing alternatives to heavily sanctioned resources, such as coal and oil, has been a central focus of North Korean economic policy under Kim Jong Un since he assumed power in 2012. For example, Pyongyang began to legally regulate the development and use of renewable energy in 2014 through the Renewable Energy Act with the goal of expanding renewable energy generation capabilities to 5 million kW (kilowatts) by 2044. North Korea’s mountainous terrain and strong coastal winds provide an ideal environment for generating wind and solar energy, especially during the harsh winter season when hydro energy-generating dams and rivers are often frozen.
Pyongyang has a history of utilizing its natural resources to compensate for financial difficulties. In 2017, North Korea generated 55 percent of its total electricity from hydroelectric plants and the remaining 45 percent from fossil fuels, signifying a national reliance on renewable energy. However, North Korea still favors coal as a major export commodity and overall energy generator for its economy. Total coal exports plummeted following additional U.N. sanctions in 2016 and China’s decision to reduce coal exports from North Korea in 2017 due to international pressure.
As a result, North Korea will likely invest more capital and resources into developing renewable energy facilities, while still relying on key trading partners like China to keep its economy afloat.
Pyongyang continues to signal significant interest in expanding its renewable energy capabilities. During his 2019 New Year Address, Kim Jong Un announced that greater investment in tidal, wind, and nuclear power can contribute to solving the national power shortage issue and economic challenges posed by sanctions. Since his speech, North Korean state media has published over 280 articles describing national advancements in harnessing natural energy including major universities, such as Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology, developing solar energy generation systems comprised of domestic materials for industrial use. Additionally, the Arirang Maeri recently announced that the country’s Science and Technology Complex has installed “thousands of solar panels on its roof and along the Taedong River to create a single solar power plant to guarantee power for thousands of computers, network- and communication-related equipment, as well as lighting.” North Korean media outlets have also claimed that the country’s Solar Heating Equipment Distribution Agency plans to develop new technology and products using solar energy across the country, but it is unclear how successful and far-reaching these projects will be given North Korea’s financial limitations.
Read the full article from The Diplomat.
More from CNAS
America’s Chance to Blunt China’s Encroachment
If the U.S. spreads its efforts too thin or focuses primarily on military power at the expense of economic diplomacy, it will lose this competition....
By Daniel Silverberg & Elena McGovern
Russia appears to be importing products for military use through Turkish companies, US officials warn
Russian customs data show that parts that could be used in military hardware are coming into the country through Turkey. Ankara did not impose sanctions on Russia after its in...
By Emily Kilcrease
No Winners in This Game
Sanctioning China represents a challenge more complex than any other in the modern era of sanctions. The scale and interconnected nature of China’s economy means that the dama...
By Emily Kilcrease
Remapping Global Supply Chains
Rachel Ziemba makes her debut on the podcast to discuss what you missed at APEC while everyone was focused on Xi and Biden, prospects for growth in Venezuelan oil production, ...
By Rachel Ziemba