Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

DPRK looks to boost energy supply

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

ORIGINAL POST (2015-6-3): According to the Associated Press:

North Korea is racing to boost its electricity supply by up to 50 percent with the completion of several generating stations by the end of the year and is pushing alternative resources like solar — already used extensively in the countryside — to ease its chronic shortages, a government expert told the Associated Press in Pyongyang.

In an unusually high-profile campaign, the North has mobilized legions of shock brigades to complete two large hydropower projects by Oct. 10. As is common with major North Korean construction efforts, the deadline is a date of national significance: the 70th anniversary of its ruling party.

Officials hope a noticeable increase will provide tangible proof that the party is working to improve the impoverished and heavily sanctioned nation’s standard of living. Kim Kyong Il, a senior researcher at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Sciences, said the goal is a 20 to 50 percent increase in power compared with the 2014 level.

How effective its latest ‘‘speed campaign’’ will be is an open question.

Even achieving its target would leave North Korea with a small fraction of what it needs to fuel a vibrant economy or even meet some basic needs of its population. Experts stress the North needs more than just new power stations — it must improve its infrastructure to get the electricity where it is needed, secure spare parts and conduct sustained maintenance to keep the plants themselves going.

Supplying its industries and 24 million citizens with even a bare minimum of electricity has long been one of North Korea’s biggest problems, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Since then, the international community has offered to help the North expand its power grid, if it agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but to no avail.

North Korea’s total, nationwide electricity output is believed to be about 15 terawatt hours per year, give or take 10 or 20 percent. That would only be about enough to power Seoul, the South Korean capital of 10 million, for less than four months.

It’s been estimated — though never confirmed by Pyongyang — that about one-fifth of North Korea’s electricity is diverted to its 1 million-person military. Moreover, a disproportionate amount of the nation’s power is used to light up Pyongyang, where less than one-tenth of the population resides.

Kim, the government expert, said the North is shifting its focus in line with leader Kim Jong Un’s promise to improve the lives of the North Korean people and invigorate its economy.

He said North Korea is exploring wind and tidal power sources and added that solar already provides as much as half of the electricity in some rural areas. Small solar panels, seen by outside experts as a grassroots coping mechanism where state-provided energy is woefully lacking, are a common sight on apartment balconies and some countryside farms.

‘‘Our country regards electricity as the engine of the national economy, so the state is increasing investment in this field,’’ he said. He added that a major portion of the 2015 national budget that didn’t go to defense has been earmarked for investment in the power sector, though he refused to give precise figures.

Kim said two major projects — Mount Paektu Songun Youth Power Station units No. 1 and No. 2 and Huichon Power Station units 5, 8, 9 and 10 along the Chongchon River — are expected to be completed in time for the anniversary. The hydropower station on Mount Paektu, near the Chinese border, was started under Kim Jong Un’s father, the late Kim Jong Il, but had been plagued by delays.

State media in the North, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, have portrayed the race to complete the megaprojects as a heroic demonstration of national will.

‘‘The young people of the DPRK have gone through thick and thin in hearty response to the call of the party to flatten even mountains, empty seas and conquer space,’’ the ruling party’s newspaper said in a recent editorial. ‘‘Now is the time for them to powerfully demonstrate their courage, unity and fighting capability before the world.’’

But Kim acknowledged it’s hard to predict how much power the units will actually produce.

‘‘If the power stations now under construction are completed, tens of thousands of kilowatts will be generated,’’ he said. ‘‘But this is only the capacity of the power stations. Actual output differs, so we will have to wait and see how much it comes out to.’’

Kim said North Korea relies on hydropower for 60 percent of its power grid, and on coal-fired thermal power for most of the rest. Both are vulnerable: hydropower to droughts and freezing, coal to supply and quality problems.

Kim said a ‘‘once in a century’’ drought last year caused a 10 percent drop in the output of hydropower stations, which he said was largely offset by increased coal power output. Not surprisingly, rural areas, which are low on the priority list for energy allocations, except at rice harvest time, were hardest hit by shortages.

David von Hippel, senior associate with the Nautilus Institute think tank, which has done extensive research on North Korea’s energy situation, said he doesn’t believe the 20-50 percent boost is plausible.

He said the additional electricity from the plants could be ‘‘potentially very significant to the surrounding area, or to whatever area of electricity demand the plant is connected to,’’ but not very significant on the national scale.

Still, he added, assessing the North’s capacities, and even its needs, is complicated because Pyongyang makes so little information public. North Koreans also long ago adjusted their lifestyles to the realities of scarcity — for example, by not buying appliances or equipment that require electricity.

‘‘The country has lived under a shortfall for so many years that it’s difficult to know what demand would be if there were enough power,’’ he said.

I also wrote an article in 38 North on a new coal power plant being constructed in Kangdong County.

Read the full story here:
North Korea in rush to boost electricity supply
Associated Press
Eric Talmadge
2015-6-3

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Solar panel boom in North Korea

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

solar-equipment-center-2014-9-21

Pictured Above: Solar Equipment Center in Pyongyang

According to Reuters:

In a country notorious for a lack of electricity, many North Koreans are taking power into their hands by installing cheap household solar panels to charge mobile phones and light up their homes.

Apartment blocks in Pyongyang and other cities are increasingly adorned with the panels, hung from balconies and windows, according to recent visitors to the isolated country and photographs obtained by Reuters.

“There must be at least a threefold increase in solar panels compared to last year,” Simon Cockerell, who visits North Korea regularly as general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, told Reuters from Pyongyang. “Some are domestically made, so that may have driven prices down.”

North Korea has long suffered from electricity shortages which plunge large parts of the country into darkness, providing a stark contrast in night-time photos taken from space to prosperous and power-thirsty South Korea.

The soaring sales of cheap and easily-installed solar panels reflect rising demand for electricity in North Korea as incomes rise and people buy electronic goods like mobile phones and the “notel” media player that need regular charging. North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, is home to 2.5 million mobile phone users, about 10 percent of the population.

Once reserved for Workers’ Party cadres, solar panels and voltage stabilisers are now sold openly both in markets and the hardware section of Pyongyang department stores, where small 20 watt panels cost just under 350,000 won – $44 at the widely-used black market exchange rate where a dollar is about 8,000 won, instead of the official 96 won.

Obtaining accurate data from North Korea is difficult, but roughly 10-15 percent of urban apartments in a series of recent photographs in North Korean cities obtained by Reuters appeared to have small solar panels attached to windows or balconies.

Whether that number translates nationally is unclear, but regular visitors have noted a significant increase in solar panel use across the country in recent months, either in urban areas or in one case in the backyard vegetable plot of a rural house.

MONEY IS POWER

Private solar panels are not illegal in authoritarian North Korea, where in recent years the government has tacitly allowed greater economic freedoms. However, some local authorities may demand a bribe for permission to install them, a defector said.

Electricity supply in North Korea is prioritised for factories or areas of political importance, but those with money or connections are often able to tap those lines illegally.

The country could be generating about 33 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, or just 7 percent of what South Korea generates, according to Tristan Webb, a former British Foreign Office analyst who visited North Korean power plants in 2013.

North Korea suffers from dry winters where Siberian winds can keep temperatures below freezing for months. The state exports much of its mined coal and relies heavily on hydro power, meaning electricity is in especially short supply in winter.

“We can heat our homes with a heater powered by a solar panel,” said Kim Yeong-mi, a North Korean defector who came to the South in 2012.

Pyongyang is home to a solar panel factory, and state propaganda has said the technology is in “effective use” in solar-powered lamp posts in other cities. North Korea is trying to use renewable energy to “make up the shortage of electricity,” state media said on Tuesday.

“Develop and make effective use of wind, tidal, geothermal and solar energy!,” was one of a barrage of slogans released by the ruling party in February.

A typical solar power set-up includes a panel, battery, and inverter for charging phones or powering appliances. Private car ownership remains rare in North Korea, but car batteries are popular in households to store power for blackouts.

In the Chinese city of Dandong on the frontier with North Korea, large red signs outside shops advertise solar panel and battery kits, aimed at traders from across the border. At one shop, the largest set-up on sale produces enough power to run a TV, laptop, mobile phone, fridge, washing machine, rice cooker and even an electric blanket – all increasingly common household goods for moneyed North Koreans.

“North Koreans didn’t really buy solar panels from us until two years ago,” said Yang Yanmeng, a trader in China’s Shandong province who has been selling solar panels since 2012.

“Now, up to 80-90 percent of our company’s products are sold to North Koreans,” he told Reuters by phone.

Read the full story here:
In North Korea, solar panel boom gives power to the people
Reuters
James Pearson
2015-4-22

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China rejects DPRK coal shipment (Again)

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-4-4): For the second time this year, the Chinese have rejected a shipment of North Korean coal. According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

China has returned a shipment of anthracite coal to North Korea because it failed to meet standards for mercury emissions, according to a local report on Saturday.

This appears to be the second rejection by China of the North Korean mineral this year.

The shipment arrived at the Longkou port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong late last month, but was returned as its quality did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations, iQiru.com, a local Shandong Internet news site, reported, citing an unnamed Longkou port official.

The report did not elaborate further or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

In September last year, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons in January this year, according to Chinese customs data.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-9): Back in October of 2014, Kevin Stahler was the first person to point out (as far as I am aware) that the DPRK’s coal exports to China were in decline. Quoting Kevin:

However, this year North Korea’s anthracite exports to China are on course for a hard landing. The total value of imported anthracite is down 23 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to a year earlier. That’s an annualized $340 million hit to North Korea’s balance of payments. But North Korea is not alone: China has seen a double-digit decline in both the value and volume of its total world coal imports from January – August 2014.

On March 4, 2015, Yonhap reported that China returned a shipment of coal to the DPRK for reasons related to domestic environmental protection regulations:

China has rejected imports of some North Korean anthracite coal because the coal failed to meet domestic standards for mercury emissions, a local newspaper reported Wednesday, in what appeared to be China’s first rejection of North Korean minerals over environmental concerns.

The shipment was returned to North Korea on Feb. 27 from the Rizhao port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong, the National Business Daily newspaper reported, citing an unnamed port official.

The report did not elaborate further, or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

After three decades of rapid industrialization, China regularly sees hazardous air pollution with levels of particulate matter rising to nearly 40 times the limits set by the World Health Organization during the winter months.

In September, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

In January, China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons, according to Chinese customs data.

On March 9, UPI reported on one of the key aspects of China’s new environmental policies and how it will affect the DPRK:

China’s crackdown on coal-related pollution will take a heavy toll on the North Korean economy, South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo reported Monday.

China’s plan is to drastically reduce coal consumption by 160 million tons in the next five years. The plan, presented at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, aims to reduce the fossil energy use that is contributing to severe pollution in big cities, The Australian reported.

Countries exporting coal to China are all affected, but the plan could create an economic crisis in impoverished North Korea. Coal and iron-ore exports are two of North Korea’s biggest exports to China, its biggest trading partner.

According to the Donga Ilbo, more than 97 percent of North Korean exports are shipped to China*, and coal, iron ore comprise 60 percent of all North Korean exports.

China’s anti-pollution policy is affecting North Korean cargo. A North Korean ship delivering coal to China was turned away at the coastal city of Rizhao on Feb. 27. The Donga Ilbo reported the coal did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations.

The rising ban and other factors are placing the impoverished North Korean economy in a tight squeeze.

Anna Fifield also covered this story for the Washington Post and Guardian.

*The article reports that China accounts for 97% of the DPRK’s international trade. This is only true if one excludes South Korean trade–which South Korea does because they consider North-South trade as “inter-korean” trade.

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DPRK-Russia trade in 2014

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-3-18): Although overall trade volume between the DPRK and Russia was down in 2014, North Korea’s exports to Russia were up. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s exports to Russia soared nearly 32 percent in 2014 from a year earlier, a report showed Wednesday, amid Pyongyang’s efforts to bolster ties with Moscow.

According to the report by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, North Korea’s outbound shipments to Russia reached US$10.17 million in 2014, up 31.9 percent from a year earlier.

By item, textile exports came to $4.7 million, or 46.2 percent of the total, followed by machinery with $1.6 million, musical instruments with $1.37 million and electrical equipment with $670,000.

Pyongyang also sold $250,000 worth of cars to Russia last year, 2.3 times more than the previous year, with shipments of optical devices soaring more than 60 times to $190,000.

Bilateral trade volume, however, fell 11.4 percent on-year to $92.34 million last year as Pyongyang’s imports from Russia shrank 14.9 percent to $82.17 million.

Crude imports dropped 7.9 percent on-year to $33.98 million last year, taking up the largest 41.7 percent share of the total imports.

“North Korea has been striving to strengthen economic cooperation with Moscow, though it will take time for the North to diversify its trade markets due to its heavy dependence on China in the past,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior research fellow at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) in Seoul.

Last year, more than 90 percent of its exports were bound for China. Bilateral trade between North Korea and China, however, fell 2.4 percent from 2013 to $6.39 billion in 2014, marking the first annual decline since 2009, according to Seoul data.

The 2014 figure is seen as signaling that the strained political ties between the two nations, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February 2013, have affected their economic relations.

Amid such languid ties with Beijing, North Korea has been ramping up efforts to forge a closer relationship with Russia, with the two nations declaring 2015 as a year of friendship.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-4): According to Yonhap, trade between North Korea and Russia (imports and exports)dropped significantly in the first three quarters of 2014:

Trade between North Korea and Russia dropped significantly this year, despite Pyongyang’s efforts to step up economic cooperation with Moscow, data showed Thursday.

Russia’s exports to North Korea reached US$59.01 million in the first nine months of this year, down 10.1 percent from the same period last year, according to the data by the Vladivostok office of the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

In particular, Russia’s exports of flour to North Korea plunged 72.2 percent on-year to $770,000.

Russia’s imports from its neighbor also fell 7.9 percent on-year to $6.46 million during the January-September period.

North Korea’s imports of electronics and coal from Russia also tumbled 61 percent and 44.6 percent, respectively, according to the data.

Russia’s imports of North Korean nuclear reactors, boilers and other machinery, meanwhile, shrank 57.1 percent on-year to reach $451,000,

Bucking the overall decline, Russia’s imports of North Korea-made clothes soared 35.5 percent on-year to $3.61 million, maintaining an uptrend of recent years.

North Korea has been intensifying efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia, recently deciding to use the Russian ruble as a trade currency as well as launching a fledgling logistics project to link Russia’s border city of Khasan to the North’s port of Rajin.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-Russia trade shrinks this year
Yonhap
2014-12-4

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North Koreans discuss curbs to outflow of natural resources

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

The Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES) published the article below:

The Issue of Regulating Coal and Iron Ore Exports Raised in North Korea

There is a growing sense inside North Korea for a need to regulate the export of underground resources such as coal through imposing export tariffs or other trade barriers.

An overwhelming percentage of the country’s exports consist of underground resources and there is rising speculation that North Korea is pushing forward long-term transformation of its trade and industrial structure.

An article in a recent edition (published October 20, 2014) of Kim Il Sung University’s school newspaper has argued that “We need to protect the country’s precious resources by applying different tariff rates.”

The article stressed that “The subjects of export tariff first need to be selected for raw materials and energy resources that is urgently needed for the construction of a socialist economic powerhouse.”

In other words, there is a need to prevent the excessive exportation of goods through levying a high export tariff rate on underground resources.

The article specifically picked out coal and iron ore as underground resources which are important for economic development, and pointed out that “We need to do all we can to prohibit the export [of these resources].”

According to KOTRA (the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency), in 2013 the percentages of coal and iron ore among North Korea’s total exports were, respectively, 42.9 percent and 9.3 percent, which amount to over half of all exports.

North Korea’s consideration of regulating the export of underground resources in such a situation is seen as an attempt to achieve long-term industrial development, which may decrease its foreign currency earnings in the short-run.

The Kim Il Sung University newspaper article also argued that “We must actively protect our country’s resources so that we can develop a vibrant and self-reliant national economy.”

The fact that last year North Korea’s export of anthracite* to China dropped for the first time in 8 years is also thought to be a product of such a policy consideration.

North Korea’s push to regulate the export of underground resources is viewed as an effort to reduce its dependence on China, but many are skeptical regarding how effectively North Korea will implement such a policy with its urgent need for foreign currency.

The article is interesting for three reasons.

The first is that DPRK policy-makers may find it preferable to impose a tariff on exports rather than actually control the number of organizations that are legally allowed to export natural resources. This raises a government capacity point. Alternatively, this could be seen as a tool to draw resources from the privileged JVCs and trading companies that are outside the control of the cabinet. In a sense, a tariff, if effectively implemented, could improve the fiscal position of the people’s economy by “taxing” all the trading companies under the control of different sectors of the party and military.

Second, Chinese environmental policies may be inadvertently accomplishing this policy outcome without the DPRK having to actually do anything. The amount of coal being exported to China is down significantly in 2014, and there are questions as to whether 2013 numbers will be achieved again in the near-term. However, Chinese environmental policies which reduce imports from the DPRK have a negative fiscal effect for Pyongyang since no trade actually takes place. Indeed, if Chinese imports of DPRK resources continue to fall, a tariff will make less and less sense.

And third, one of Kim Il-sung’s strategic concerns was that fraternal socialist countries would not invest in industrial production in the DPRK, and it would only become a valuable member of the communist trading block as a source of natural resources. Kim Il-sung was worried about what would happen to his country when the natural resources were all gone. Perhaps imposing an export tariff can be seen as a sign that there is a coalition in the leadership that wants to move away from natural resource exports and into a greater reliance on SEZ’s, domestic production, etc.

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DPRK-China trade in 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015

According to Yonhap, DPRK-China trade drops slightly in 2014:

North Korea’s annual trade with its economic lifeline, China, fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday.

North Korea’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The annual trade figures between North Korea and China provided a fresh sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

At least on paper, there were also no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea for all of last year.

A South Korean diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter, however, cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

I have been unable to locate the KOTRA report, but the Choson Ilbo adds this:

China’s exports to the North were down 3.1 percent on-year and its imports from the North 1.5 percent, the diplomatic source in Beijing said quoting Chinese trade statistics.

Yonhap followed up with this from a Chinese foreign ministry press briefing:

Asked about the official absence of crude oil delivery to North Korea, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, referred the question to “competent authorities.”

“You mentioned a specific issue concerning trade between China and North Korea. I would like to refer you to competent authorities,” Hua told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“But, I want to highlight that the economic cooperation and trade between China and North Korea are normal,” Hua said.

Yonhap also provided the following information on oil shipments from China to the DPRK:

In previous years, China’s official shipments of crude oil to North Korea had been absent for several months, particularly after the North’s nuclear tests. However, it was extremely unusual that, at least on paper, China sold no crude oil to North Korea for all of last year.

In 2014, China’s exports of petroleum products to North Korea jumped 48.22 percent from a year earlier to US$1.54 million, according to the data based on Chinese trade statistics and compiled by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

“Although final statistics show that China’s exports of crude oil to North Korea were counted as ‘zero’ in 2014, experts suggest that the possibility of China’s suspension of crude oil exports to North Korea remains low,” the agency said in a statement.

South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing have also cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

There has been no clear indication that the 2014 trade figures reflect China’s willingness to use crude oil as leverage to press North Korea to change course in its nuclear ambition.

Yonhap (via Korea Times) also reports that anthracite exports to China are down in 2014:

North Korea’s exports of anthracite to China tumbled nearly 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first annual drop in eight years, data showed Friday.

North Korea exported US$1.13 billion worth of anthracite to China last year, down 17.6 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association.

It was the first on-year decline in North Korea’s anthracite exports to China since 2006.

The volume of anthracite exports also decreased 6.4 percent on-year to 15.43 million tons last year, according to the KITA.

Despite the drop, anthracite accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China in 2014.

According to the data, North Korea’s exports of iron ore to China plunged 25.7 percent on-year to $218.6 million last year, the smallest amount since 2010.

For lots more data on the DPRK’s international trade, see also these eight great posts:
1. North Korea-China Trade Update: Coal Retreats, Textiles Surge
2. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 1)
3. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 2)
4. Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Dependencia, North Korea Style” (I would have gone with “Our Style Dependencia”)
5. NK News on coal shipments in 2014.
6. Radio Free Asia on coal shipments.
7. N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record
8. China’s exports of jet fuel to N. Korea rebounds in 2014

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s 2014 trade with China marks 1st drop in 5 years
Yonhap
2015-1-26

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Ten power plants on Chongchon River under construction to increase power supply to Pyongyang

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Japan-based pro-North Korea media outlet Choson Sinbo reported on December 11 that ten hydroelectric dams were being constructed along the Chongchon River stretching over a hundred kilometers.

According to the news, Chongchon River (217 km long) is one of the largest rivers in North Korea’s central region, and derives its name from its crystal clear water.

Multi-tiered power plants are being constructed, a project which runs across Jagang, North and South Pyongan Provinces, spanning approximately 77km. The project consists of ten small and medium-sized power plants of varying generating capacity.

The construction of the dams on the Chongchon River began in January 2013 and is considered as a second phase construction following the completion of the Huichon Power Station (in Jagang Province) in April 2012.

Huichon Power Station 1 and 2 were built in the first phase. The ten plants currently under construction can somewhat be considered as Huichon Power Stations No. 3 to 12.

The Huichon Power Stations 1 and 2 have a maximum power generation capacity of 300,000 kilowatts (KW). Stations 3 to 12 are expected to generate about 120,000 KW. Like the Huichon Power Stations No. 1 and No. 2, the new power plants are expected to provide power to Pyongyang City through direct transmission lines. It is expected that this will address the power shortage problem in Pyongyang.

The city, provincial, and central government agencies are overseeing the construction of the power plants and about 14,000 people have been mobilized for this project. The news reported that “young women’s shock brigades” were seen at the construction sites.

The news reported that many slogan banners are posted across the construction sites that read, “Once Determined, Korea (Choson) Will Accomplish!”, “All towards the Creation of Choson Speed”, and “Let Us Take Charge of Pyongyang’s Night lights.”

The Chongchon River power plants are expected to be completed by next October on the occasion of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

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DPRK building new coal-powered plant in Pyongyang

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Kangdong-plant-2014-3-20

Pictured above is the new plant. Learn more about it on this new article at 38 North.

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North Korea shows great interest in micro hydropower

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea, which has been focusing its efforts on increasing energy production, is currently paying close attention to micro hydropower systems. Micro hydropower is a type of hydroelectric power system which can effectively harness industrial water and/or hydroelectric resources from water and sewage systems to produce electricity.

A November 2, 2014 article published in the North Korea Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported on the advantages and efficiency of micro hydropower, of which it claims North Korea has implemented and is currently using. The harnessing of industrial and sewer system water was once a mere point of interest for North Korea; but according to the newspaper article, a variety of micro hydropower equipment has since been installed and is currently generating up to 100kW of power for the nation.

The newspaper explained, “Industrial waste water used for cooling or cleaning in factories has a fixed height and pressure, and can be used as a water power resource to produce electricity due to its stable quantity and flow rate. . . . In water and sewage systems, catchment areas and sewage purification plants have freefalling water which can be used as a water power resource, and in air conditioning systems, the circulating cooling water can also be potentially utilized.”

The article also praised micro hydropower systems for their low initial investment cost and operation fees.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, construction costs for the levees used in a hydroelectric power plant can account for over fifty percent of the total construction costs of the system. But, because micro hydropower systems can be installed and connected directly to existing pipes, costs are reduced dramatically, and the low-flow, low-pressure nature of the micro hydropower system allows for additional savings on materials such as waterwheels and generators.

The costs of installing a micro hydropower system may be double that of a diesel-powered generator, but when taking the cost of fuel into account, micro hydropower systems are said to be much more economical in the long term.

The newspaper also reported about one micro hydropower facility which even utilizes the piping and freefalling water from their service-water purifier. According to the article, the system produces enough electricity to power the water purification and also net a 55kW energy surplus.

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-14): Yonhap speculates on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

China appears to be continuing to provide North Korea with crude oil, contrary to its customs data, officials here said Friday.

China exported not a single drop of crude oil to North Korea in the first nine months this year, according to formal data.

If true, it might reflect widespread speculation that the relations between the communist allies have been strained to some extent due to Pyongyang’s repeated provocative acts.

South Korean officials, however, believe China is continuing to send crude oil to North Korea either in hidden trade or in the form of aid.

“Without China’s provision of crude oil, the operation of many of North Korea’s industrial facilities and vehicles would be suspended. But there has been no such indication yet,” an intelligence official said.

Beijing may be deliberately excluding its crude oil shipments to Pyongyang from the customs data in a bid to give the world the impression that it is joining the international community’s efforts to put pressure on it, another government official said.

He dismissed the view that the North has replaced China with Russia as its main source of crude oil imports.

“North Korea has brought in more crude oil from Russia this year, but the total amount is still less than 100,000 tons,” he said.

North Korea used to import an annual average of half a million tons of crude oil from China. (Yonhap)

UPDATE 7 (2014-11-4): According to Yonhap, North Korea’s jet fuel imports from China have begun to rebound this year.

North Korea imported 13,000 tons of jet fuel from China between January and September, a sharp rise from 359 tons in the same period last year, the unification ministry official told reporters.

But the amount is still far short of past tallies: 38,000 tons in the same period of 2011 and 39,000 tons in that of 2012, he noted, citing formal data from China’s customs authorities

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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