Longer days drive up solar panel sales

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2017-05-16 17:20

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting North Korean citizens.

As summer draws near and the days grow longer, there have been an increasing number of reports about the rising popularity of solar panels amongst North Korean citizens. Daily NK Reporter Kang Mi Jin is here to tell us more.

The solar panel market has been gaining increasing traction in North Korea. Due to an apparent shortage of provisions carrying over from the past spring, solar panels are selling faster than they did during the winter.    

Its easy to forget how often we use electricity these days, and the need for a constant supply is growing. However, for the citizens of North Korea, electricity is widely considered a luxury for special occasions. This has driven rising sales of solar panels within the North Korean marketplace in recent years. Residents have understood the importance of a reliable supply of electricity to earn money, and the popularity of solar panels is a reflection of their commitment to self-reliance and self-development, which ironically is in accordance with the North Korean governments party slogan. 

The solar panel craze in North Korea is evident in news reports and photos coming out of the country. In line with what you just said, how do you account for the most recent increases in solar panel sales? 

As summer gets well underway, North Korean vendors selling ice cream and other cold treats start appearing around the marketplace. This is a good example of a business case for electricity—to help run business ventures.  

In addition, most North Korean families use fans that need electricity. Solar panels offer a steady supply to counter the summer heat. Previously, individual generators were used, but these are now considered outdated. 

Since the mid-1990s, North Korean citizens have had to take care of their own basic needs themselves. Would you say that electricity has come to play a necessary role?  

Every year, the authorities say that the states electricity grid has performed at 100% capacity as planned, but North Korean citizens know that its all a lie. Days when electricity is actually supplied by the state are few and far between. Although electricity comes on more regularly during rice-planting season in the spring, the flow isnt reliable. 

Because such occurrences are common, North Korean citizens have just learned to batten down the hatches and roll with the punches. Their versatility in self-reliance extends to all aspects of their lives. And this capability seems to be growing.  

I guess this means that the publics growing demand for solar panels in North Korea is an important topic of discussion. 

According to inside reports, many citizens used to pay owners of Happy Fans (a type of solar panel) with money or food in exchange for access to charge their electronic devices, but now consumers are striving to buy these panels themselves. It is an inconvenience for neighbors to always be lending out their solar panels, and many citizens are uncomfortable with always having to ask. 

More people are watching television and using electric lights and rice cookers. Some citizens quip that solar panels are the ray of sunshine in their homes. Such comments are significant because they poke fun at the reverence that is attributed to Kim Jong Un and his family—especially Kim Il Sung (Editors note: Kim Il Sungs birthday is officially referred to as the Day of the Sun). It pokes fun at the authorities, whose incompetence has forced North Korean citizens to buy solar panels. 

I can understand why solar panels sell so well in the North Korean marketplace. How much does one cost?

A 50 Watt solar panel costs around 300,000 KRW, and a 30 Watt panel costs around 240,000 KPW. Because most solar panels are imported through China, the price is lower by about 20,000 KPW around the Sino-North Korean border region. As one travels further inland, the price increases due to the increasing number of middlemen and businesses that help deliver such products. 

Ive heard that households with freezers will buy more than one 50 Watt solar panel. According to a North Korean resident who spoke to the Unification Media Group, it was difficult saving up enough money to buy a single solar panel in May.  This is why solar panels are still largely the preserve of cadres, the new monied class (donju), and successful merchants. 

I understand that the prevalence of solar panels also means a rising incidence in related burglaries.

That's right. Theft, especially of solar panels, is extremely common. Guard dogs are a good deterrent, but moving into an apartment building is the best option because it's much harder for thieves to swipe the panels in that case.

*Translated by Soo Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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