Policy Paper

North Korea’s Hydroelectric Power – Part I

in Program

Analysis by Peter Makowsky, Jenny Town and Samantha Pitz


Coal and hydropower are the two main sources of power in North Korea, however, hydropower accounts for the majority of the country’s actual electricity production.[1] During the Kim Jong Il era, North Korea had embarked on an ambitious plan to build large hydroelectric power stations across the country, each capable of generating enough electricity to power and light its major urban areas. The centerpiece of that plan was the Huichon Power Station, the largest to be built in North Korea, and capable of generating some 300,000 kilowatts (kW) of power, sufficient to meet the needs of its capital, Pyongyang. For Kim, Huichon was to be a symbol of North Korean pride and its peoples’ ingenuity. Unfortunately, it also became a major source of frustration as climate and engineering failures seemed to conspire against the project, and Huichon has yet to achieve its output goals.

Following his father’s death, Kim Jong Un continued to champion the Huichon project. However, after two years and continued setbacks, he altered the country’s strategic plan for energy production and shifted the focus toward building small-to-medium-sized, tiered hydroelectric power stations such as those now constructed along the Chongchon River. While these smaller power stations were originally intended to satisfy local and regional energy needs, they are now becoming a part of a larger, integrated power grid.[2]

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