North Korean solar imports drop to lowest level in years
Though North Korea has claimed it produces solar panels domestically
North Korean imports of solar panels from neighboring China fell to their lowest levels in six years in 2017, Chinese trade figures show, even as the international community looked to restrict the DPRK’s more traditional energy sources.
The DPRK’s interest in buying solar panels from China peaked in 2015 when North Korea spent over $8 million to import 682,950 panels, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.
But the number has since fallen to just under $2 million last year when the DPRK imported 138,685 panels, the lowest figure since 2012.
The most recent January figures provided by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) put imports at just $35,120, a large reduction on the $520,000 figure from January 2017.
The dropoff in imports was accompanied by a waning interest in solar panels in North Korean media, with the NK Pro KCNA Watch data tool showing mentions of the word “solar” at their highest in 2015 and declining in subsequent years.
North Korea has also released several reports and videos covering its own domestic production of solar panels and associated renewable energy technologies, which if accurate may have reduced the demand for Chinese made products.
“We will work hard to develop the power production technology based on solar heat, wind power, geotherm and other natural energy resources,” an article in Pyongyang Times published in early January reads.
Photographs taken within North Korea in recent years highlighted an increasing prevalence of small solar panels on houses and apartments, both in cities and more rural areas.
The DPRK’s energy grid is mainly powered by creaking thermal plants which run on coal and hydroelectricity plants of various sizes scattered around the country.
An overreliance on hydroelectric plants often causes problems for North Korea during its hard winters, when temperatures plummet causing rivers to freeze reducing the effectiveness of power generation and increasing blackouts.
The falling prices of solar power meant that North Koreans began using the technology to fill some of the gaps in the state provided electricity.
Although the typical panels seen in North Korea’s cities are too small to power whole apartments, they could charge batteries and provide electricity for smaller electronic devices.
Under new international sanctions which also targeted the North’s oil supplies, countries can no longer supply North Korea with industrial or electrical machinery and equipment, a trade category which includes solar panels.
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