North Korea Installs Power Meters, Raises Rates in Pyongyang

New system, aimed at combating waste from inaccurate pricing, is to be applied in other cities

North Korea's capital Pyongyang is often very dark, but power is used to light the portraits of founder Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, the grandfather and father, respectively, of leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean authorities have recently installed power meters in Pyongyang and are charging more for electricity in a bid to update an aging and inefficient system for measuring power consumption, North Korean sources say.

Residents had previously used electric power with little care for savings because the rates charged were low and based on estimates of likely cost, one Pyongyang resident told RFA’s Korean Service.

Now, however, consumption is being precisely measured and rates have risen sharply, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“These days, city residents try to save electricity any way they can. They are purchasing energy-efficient lighting and turning off unnecessary lights to save energy,” he said.

“In the past, Ministry of Electric Power Industry staff would visit every household to count the number of lights and electrical appliances, and would charge rates based on estimates of what the household would use in the coming month,” the source said.

Use was charged at a rate of 0.12 North Korean won per one kilowatt hour (with approximately 8,000 won equaling U.S. $1.00), the source said, adding, “The cost was so low as to be almost free, but the calculated costs were never accurate.”

Rates have now increased to 35 won per one kilowatt hour, and if usage exceeds 100 kilowatt hours, a progressive charge of 350 won per kilowatt hour will be applied, he said.

“This new system has now been adopted in Pyongyang, but has not yet been adopted in other cities. It will probably be established in other cities in consecutive order,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a North Korean defector now living in South Korea said that national leader Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il had previously tried to upgrade the system for measuring power consumption, but without success.

“It will be interesting to see if Kim Jong Un will be able to do what his father couldn’t,” RFA’s source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

Water consumption in North Korea is still being charged according to the older method, however, the source said.

“The bill is roughly estimated by counting the number of people in each household, and the water bill is very low, so the residents end up wasting water.”

North Korean authorities are aware of the problem, but it is too costly for now to install power meters and water meters nationwide, he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.