Korea, Democratic People's Republic (2012)

Source: REEEP Policy Database (contributed by SERN for REEEP)

This policy & regulatory overview is not updated anymore since 2015. We decided to keep it online due to high demand but would like to make you aware of the fact that it might be outdated.

Energy sources

About 56.2% of electricity is generated from hydropower, 40.9% from coal and the remainder from oil. The total amount of electricity supplied decreased substantially between 1990 (46TWh) and 1996 (23TWh), and fell still further to 2000 (13TWh), before increasing to an estimated 16.6TWh in 2005.

Many thermal power plants (TPPs) are outdated, are not fitted with environmental control equipment and lack spare parts. There exists significant hydropower potential but this has not been exploited because of lack of investment and antiquated equipment. In recent years, the construction of new hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) has been announced, presumably using domestically-built turbines and generators. Some of these are relatively large (50-100 MW) but insufficient in output to make much of a dent in unmet demand. The output from these plants is likely to satisfy demand in those areas in which they are located. The Huichon Hydropower Station, which is under construction, is the largest such facility to be built in 20 years.

The DPRK holds abundant coal reserves. According to the EIA, it was the 19th largest producer and 22nd largest consumer of coal in the world in 2006. Coal production is hindered by the obsolete equipment, high accident rates, equipment failure and inadequate transportation networks. A key development in this sector has been the significant export of coal to China - ranging from 2.8 to 3.7 million tonnes per year from 2005 through 2009. Chinese firms have invested in the infrastructure to extract and export coal and other minerals though the impact of these investments on energy efficiency in the DPRK itself appears small.

Since 2000 there have been modest improvements in the energy sector, which have been underwritten primarily by Chinese investment. There are no indigenous sources of natural gas.

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Quantities of crude oil sufficient to keep one of the DPRK’s two oil refineries running (though well below capacity) are supplied from China. Imports of petroleum products from China have been relatively stable, averaging about 130,000 tonnes per year since 2003 and varying by a maximum of just over 10% on an annual basis during that period.

Close Reliance

Extend network

The electricity system is comprised of a patchwork of regional and local grids centred on major and smaller power plants. The electrification rate is just 22%.

Close Extend network

Capacity concerns

The inadequate electricity production acts as a constraint on economic activity. Only facilities associated with the “military industrial complex” receive an adequate supply of electricity. Shortages of power and coal persist across the country. Pyongyang frequently experiences blackouts and the power supplies in other areas are more intermittent. For example, many rural areas receive power only during key agricultural seasons and must make do with alternative fuels during the rest of the year.

An analysis of the electricity sector suggests that thermal power generation system in the DPRK has been significantly eroded. The large (almost all coal-fired) TPPs are only partially in operation due to equipment damage. In virtually all of the large TPPs, not all boilers and turbines are operational, and those that are operate at low efficiency and capacity factors due to maintenance problems and lack of fuel. As a consequence of the restricted TTP capacity, HPPs have shouldered the burden of power generation. However, hydroelectric output is also limited by maintenance problems but, equally importantly, the seasonal nature of river flows.

The transmission and distribution systems have also suffered damage and this suggests that distribution would be problematic if large amounts of fuel or electricity were suddenly available.

Close Capacity concerns

Energy debates

There exists no national energy policy per se. The energy sector has been guided mainly by international frameworks: firstly through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) initiative which has since been succeeded by the “Six Party Talks” mechanism.

The Government articulated its development assistance priorities at a “Prioritisation Workshop for a UN Strategy for DPRK (2007-2009)”. The overall outcome was Government resolve to collaborate with partners in the formulation and implementation of projects for sustainable energy resource management and utilisation. Other outcomes, sanctioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were :

  • Small Wind Energy Development and Promotion in Rural Areas (SWEDPRA)

The goal of this project is the reduction in the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuel using activities and the widespread implementation of small-scale wind energy systems (SWES) to replace current fossil fuel consumption. The project is also designed to address energy shortages especially in the rural areas. This project was originally signed in 2005 to start implementation but was interrupted due to the suspension of UNDP operations in 2007. Following the approval by the Executive Board (EB) for resumption, the project was reformulated and approved by the UNDP in 2010.

  • Sustainable Rural Energy Development (SRED) Programme

The SRED Programme was formulated to assist efforts to strengthen the sustainable and efficient use of conventional energy and improve accessibility of alternative energy sources to local communities and households. The SRED Programme was in operation until March 2007 when it was interrupted due to the suspension of UNDP operations. Following EB approval for resumption, the project was reformulated and approved by UNDP in 2010. Other aims of the project include contribution to national policies and strategies to promote sustainable development and use of conventional energy and alternative energy sources through “pilot demonstration schemes”.

Close Energy debates

Energy procedure

Currently, several factors are crucial to energy sustainability in North Korea. Among those are:

  • stabilisation of the supply of petroleum products,
  • reconstruction of coal-mining sector and coal transport infrastructure,
  • diversification of the energy mix: wider use of natural gas and renewables (hydro, wind, solar, and tidal energy),
  • modernisation of electric grids and power facilities, and
  • introduction of energy-efficient technologies in the entire energy supply chain including production, distribution, transmission, and utilisation segments. 

China and North Korea signed an agreement in 2011 to share their experience and cooperate in exploring and utilising renewable energy. The DPRK has recently showed increased interest in developing geothermal resources.

Close Energy procedure


Centre for Strategic and International Studies, (2010). “DPRK “Collapse” Pathways: Implications for the Energy Sector and for Strategies of Redevelopment/Support. Available at: [Accessed 9th September 2013]

von Hippel, D., Bruce, S. and Hayes, P. 2011. Transforming The DPRK Through Energy Sector Development. Available at: [Accessed 9th September 2013]

von Hippel, D. and Hayes, P. 2005. The DPRK Energy Sector: Recent Status, Problems, Cooperation Opportunities, and Constraints. Available at: [Accessed 9th September 2013] Close References