SEOUL: 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 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 stabilizers are now sold openly both in markets and the hardware section of Pyongyang department stores, where small 20watt 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.