North Korea to utilize science and technology to overcome its energy crisis

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-4-3

In order to solve the nation’s chronic energy shortage, North Korea has been focusing on the development and utilization of science and technology as much as possible. Recent technological advancements are being reported one after another, and further development of alternative energy sources has resulted in technology that will reduce the nation’s oil and fossil fuel consumption.

The Choson Sinbo, a news outlet published by the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported on March 22 that the research staff of North Korea’s National Academy of Sciences contributed to a reduction in coal consumption by successfully developing and implementing the use of compressed biomass fuel in several factories in Pyongyang. The article also reported the invention of a new navigation program at Pyongyang Machinery College that searches for and displays the shortest possible routes between destinations. Transportation facilities in Pyongyang are said to have seen a 5 to 10 percent savings in fuel consumption since the introduction of the program.

Earlier this month, the Choson Sinbo also reported that the urban management division at the Central Heating Research Institute developed a new, more efficient solar heating system that has already been installed in homes along Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Street. The new system utilizes the leftover water heated during the day to provide warmth for homes at night, and, unlike the previously used system, can do so without consuming electricity.

Such efforts to mobilize domestic natural resources can be interpreted as an earnest attempt at solving the nation’s chronic energy shortage. In his new year’s address, Kim Jong Un emphasized the need to more effectively utilize domestic natural resources such as wind, geothermal, solar, and especially hydro power to remedy the nation’s electricity shortage.

He also stressed the need to endure the struggle to save energy with strength and resolve, calling on all sectors of the economy to conserve each and every watt of electricity, gram of coal, and drop of water where possible. Although North Korean efforts to solve the nation’s energy shortage have been ongoing for some time, the regime seems to be putting additional weight on the role of science and technology.

This call for technological development, with particular regard to alternative energy, is directly connected to Kim Jong Un’s preferential policy toward scientists and technicians. The best example of this can be seen in the construction of Unha Scientists’ Street, a housing complex built in September of last year specifically for personnel who have contributed to missile and nuclear tests and additional construction has begun for Satellite Scientists’ Street which will serve as a residential and research complex for the scientists of North Korea’s national satellite program. The construction of these sites shows that the regime understands the importance of science and technology in raising the efficiency of not only the energy sector, but also the North Korean economy. Furthermore, this move stems not only from the preferential policy toward scientists and technicians, but from the larger context of reforming the nation’s educational system.

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