Minergie: Renovation for Low-Energy Consumption Begins

Dear Reader,

After three years of training seminars and study trips and the exchange of much knowledge and information, our North Korean partners are ready to implement what they have learned about energy efficient building. A greenhouse, renovations of an existing building and a new structure are three concrete steps forward. These projects establish practical models to showcase energy saving techniques. In Switzerland, the “Minergie” concept is a familiar way of limiting energy consumption in buildings. In North Korea, where the “2000 Watt society” is a fact of life, the goal is to keep energy (mis)use from increasing in the future.

Despite all the technical questions, we remain focused on people. I am excited to see how, despite all the highs and lows of the past five years, relationships have grown stronger, prejudices have been overcome and we have truly gotten to know one another.

I would like to thank all of you who have helped make this possible. The warm welcome received from so many individuals and in so many companies made an especially big impression on our workers from the Alternative energy Center when they came to Europe last March. They saw this as a very special privilege.

Alternative Energy Project Taking Shape

Everything old is new again: This older building is being renovated and better insulated. A new greenhouse with a closed energy and nutrient cycle will be erected next to the existing building. Stefan Burckhardt visited our partners in Pyongyang in June, and he took a special trip outside the capital city:

Mr. Jang, project leader and head engineer for the Alternative energy Center, Mr. Pak and Mr. Choe, the foreign liaison from the State Commission of Science and Technology and I drove a few kilometers southeast of Pyongyang to visit Ryokpho, a vegetable-growing cooperative farm near the highway on the way to Wonsan. This is our newest alternative energy project location.

Following one and a half years trying in vain to get a building permit for a location on Duru Island, Mr. Jang suggested this substitute last spring. In contrast to the cooperative on Duru Island, this new location is not in a flood-prone area; this was likely the reason for the denial of the original request.

The 1st Brigade, a workers’ unit, moved their maintenance depot and offices to another area of town, so the original location can now serve as an ideal wind test-field and pilot location for a low-energy consumption (Minergie) test building.

Mr. Pak and Mr. Jang want to make this site a practical example of what they have learned on through study tours. First, they plan to erect a model greenhouse and provide new insulation for an existing building. The foundation for the greenhouse ((500 m2 / nearly 5,400 ft2) has already been laid. The building is south-facing, with the back wall built into the hillside, providing good insulation from inside and outside. The inner wall will be double-layered, with insulation between the two layers, which will act as a heat reservoir.

We hope that this feature will enable us to also grow vegetables in winter. A pig sty will be built next to this building. The pigs will be fed the workers’ kitchen waste, the pigs’ own organic waste will be processed into biogas, and the gas will be used to partially heat the greenhouse, in addition to passive solar heating. Byproducts from biogas fermentation also make an excellent fertilizer for the vegetable plants. This represents a closed material and energy cycle.

The eight-year-old, two-story office building will also be renovated as an example of the uses and advantages of energy-efficient building principles. The first step will be the replacement of the current single-paned, wooden windows in the coming weeks with new, triple-glazed ones. Afterward, the concrete and brick structure will be outfitted with an additional 15-20 cm (approx. 6-8 in.) of outer insulation. As this building faces south, one main requirement for passive heating has already been met. Solar heating modules will be installed on the roof to heat warm water, and electricity will be generated through wind turbines also located atop the building.

These wind turbines are a test program in cooperation with other partners, such as the Academy of Sciences or the Kim Tchaek-Universität. Here, new developments of small wind turbines are tested and monitored in the field.

The completed building will serve as a dormitory classrooms and office space for the engineers involved in the project. In the future, this will be a location for experts and lay people from throughout the country to learn how they can save money and energy through intentional investment in renovation of existing buildings. “Minergie”, an international quality label for low-energy consumption buildings, is a very new idea in North Korea, but this center will be an important step to move from theory to practical application of these principles.


After the expert discussions have concluded, there is always time for a delicious meal, a bit of tourism and usually attendance at a church service.

On this visit to Pyongyang, we took time to visit the newly built “Folk Park” on the northeastern outskirts of the city. This place is a mixture between an open-air historical museum (like Ballenberg in Switzerland) and a collection of old buildings and miniature sightseeing highlights in 1:1, 1:10 or 1:100 scale. The park is huge, you could walk around for hours! Some days it is filled with school children on fieldtrips and other visitors. The replica of the southeastern basalt coast near Kumgangsan is a favorite place for newlyweds to have romantic photos taken. My driver was especially impressed with an amazingly realistic looking wax figure of a guard. We all enjoyed spending free time together instead of only working.

Pyongyang Visit in the newly opended Folk Park – Modell 1:100 of Ryugyong Hotel with new outside fassade


Relief Aid for Children

We expect another two containers with aid to arrive in July. One container contains a warm water collector in addition to thousands of jars of baby food from the Sunval corporation.

The solar collector, a demonstration model, was acquired very reasonably. We look forward to installing it in one of the two orphanages in Hamhung, so that they will have warm water heated by the sun. We will visit the various recipients of the aid in August in order to ensure proper delivery of the material to the intended locations.

This will also be an opportunity for us to train local workers to use and maintain the solar collectors. Our partners at the Global Aid Network (GAiN) will join us on the trip. We are fortunate to have such valuable partners! I wonder whether we will recognize any of the children – they will certainly have grown since our last visit!

[Agape international, Northkorea, our heart‘s concern, June 2013, Relief Aid for Children]