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.

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