An Updated Summary of Energy Supply and Demand in the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK)

The Nautilus Institute has published a report on energy supply in the DPRK by David F. von Hippel and Peter Hayes. You can read it here.

Here is a small section of the paper:

Overall energy use per capita in the DPRK as of 1990 was relatively high, primarily due to inefficient use of fuels and reliance on coal. Coal is more difficult to use with high efficiency than oil products or gas. Based on our estimates, primary commercial energy[19] use in the DPRK in 1990 was approximately 70 GJ per capita, approximately three times the per capita commercial energy use in China in 1990, and somewhat over 50 percent of the 1990 per capita energy consumption in Japan (where 1990 GDP per-capita was some ten to twenty times higher than the DPRK). This sub-section provides a brief sketch of the DPRK energy sector, and some of its problems. Much more detailed reviews/estimates of energy demand and supply in the DPRK in 1990, 1996, and particularly in 2000, 2005, and 2008 through 2010, are provided in later chapters of this report.

The industrial sector is the largest consumer of all commercial fuels—particularly coal—in the DPRK. The transport sector consumes a substantial fraction of the oil products used in the country. Most transport energy use is for freight transport; the use of personal transport in the DPRK is very limited. The residential sector is a large user of coal and (in rural areas, though more recently, reportedly, in urban and peri-urban areas as well) biomass fuels. The military sector (by our estimates) consumes an important share of the refined oil products used in the country. The public/commercial and services sectors in the DPRK consume much smaller shares of fuels supplies in the DPRK than they do in industrialized countries, due primarily to the minimal development of the commercial sector in North Korea. Wood and crop wastes are used as fuels in the agricultural sector, and probably in some industrial subsectors as well.

Key energy-sector problems in the DPRK include:

*Inefficient and/or decaying infrastructure: Much of the energy-using infrastructure in the DPRK is reportedly (and visibly, to visitors to the country) antiquated and/or poorly maintained. Buildings apparently lack significant, and often any, insulation, and the heating circuits in residential and other buildings for the most part apparently cannot be controlled by residents. Industrial facilities are likewise either aging or based on outdated technology, and often (particularly in recent years) are operated at less-than-optimal capacities (from an energy-efficiency point of view).

*Suppressed and latent demand for energy services: Lack of fuels in many sectors of the DPRK economy has apparently caused demand for energy services to go unmet. Electricity outages are one obvious source of unmet demand, but there are also reports, for example, that portions of the DPRK fishing fleet have been idled for lack of diesel fuel. Residential heating is reportedly restricted in the winter (and some observers report that some public-sector and residential buildings have not received heat at all in recent years) to conserve fuel, resulting in uncomfortably cool inside temperatures.

The problem posed by suppressed and latent demand for energy services is that when and if supply constraints are removed there is likely to be a surge in energy (probably particularly electricity) use, as residents, industries, and other consumers of fuels increase their use of energy services toward desired levels. (This is a further argument, as elaborated later in this report, for making every effort to improve the efficiency of energy use in all sectors of the DPRK economy as restraints on energy supplies are reduced.)

*Lack of energy product markets: Compounding the risk of a surge in the use of energy services is the virtual lack of energy product markets in the DPRK. Without fuel pricing reforms, there will be few incentives for households and other energy users to adopt energy efficiency measures or otherwise control their fuels consumption. Recent years have seen limited attempts by the DPRK government to reform markets for energy products. Some private markets exist for local products like firewood, and some commercial fuels have in recent years reportedly been traded “unofficially” (on the black market), but for the most part, energy commodity markets in the DPRK essentially do not exist[20]. Energy consumers are also unlikely, without a massive and well-coordinated program of education about energy use and energy efficiency, to have the technical know-how to choose and make good use of energy efficiency technologies, even when and if such technologies are made available.

The DPRK’s energy sector needs are vast, and at the same time, as indicated by the only partial listing of problems many of these needs are sufficiently interconnected as to be particularly daunting to address. The DPRK’s energy sector needs include rebuilding/replacement of many of its power generation and almost all of its substation equipment, repair, replacement, and/or improvement of coal mine production equipment and safety systems, updating of oil refineries, improvement or replacement of most if its energy-using equipment, including coal-fired boilers, electric motors and drives, transport systems, and many other items, modernization of energy use throughout the country, rebuilding of the DPRK forest stocks, and a host of other needs. As one example of the interrelations of energy problems in the DPRK, renovating the DPRK’s coal mining sector is made more difficult because coal mines lack electricity due to electricity sector problems, and electricity generators in some cases have insufficient coal to supply power demand because of coal mine problems and problems with transporting coal to power plants.

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