North Korean electricity supply and the coal mystery

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un recently complained that North Korea’s electricity production is too low, and that goals and targets in the sector aren’t ambitious enough. On the face of it, this is puzzling. At least in the early days of “maximum pressure”, electricity supply was reportedly increasing and becoming cheaper. With less coal to export, more could be used (for cheaper) inside the country in coal-powered electrical power plants.

It seems, however, that a lack of spare parts and equipment for the country’s power plants is a major part of the problem. Moreover, the government is having a difficult time charging for electricity, since people tamper with the outdated watt-meters in their homes. Daily NK:

North Korea has apparently continued to illegally export coal even since 2017, when UN Security Council Resolution 2371 placed a complete ban on exports of North Korean coal. However, export totals have reportedly fallen compared to what they were prior to the sanctions.

Because of this, the authorities are calling for the use of “idle” coal in electricity production. However, even if they boost supplies of coal, actually increasing electricity production commensurate with that increase in supply will not be easy due to obsolete power generating equipment.

Acknowledging this problem, the authorities have also reportedly included in their electricity policy an order for the Cabinet to take responsibility for outdated equipment at the nation’s thermoelectric and hydroelectric power stations and immediately repair it.

Given that the party has issued an order to repair the equipment as quickly as possible, work on the repairs will likely begin. However, in the current situation with the border closed, the source told Daily NK it is uncertain whether North Korea can domestically produce or import the equipment it needs.

Moreover, it appears the authorities will strengthen the Cabinet’s monitoring of electricity production numbers. This is because the policy included a call for the Cabinet to start receiving quarterly reports on total electricity production – calculated based on total distribution by province.

(Source: Jang Seul Gi, “North Korean authorities issue new policy for electricity generation,” Daily NK, February 16th, 2021.)

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