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Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Solar panels can be seen on nearly every rooftop in Dandong, China.
NEW MARKETS

Inside the Chinese border town where North Koreans get their solar power

By Johnny Simon

More photos from this reportage are featured in Quartz’s new book The Objects that Power the Global Economy. You may not have seen these objects before, but they’ve already changed the way you live. Each chapter examines an object that is driving radical change in the global economy. This is from the chapter on the lithium-ion battery, which explores the future of energy. 

At least some North Koreans are embracing solar energy as a solution to the isolated country’s outdated and unreliable energy infrastructure. In the busy Chinese border town of Dandong, personal solar panels are being bundled into packages aimed at North Korean buyers; advertising for the biggest packages promises enough power to run an entire household, from radio and television to a rice cooker and water boiler.

Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A view of Dandong, China, with roofs covered in solar powered water heaters.

Dandong sits across the Yalu River from North Korea, making it easy for traders to come and go. In March, photographer Aurelien Foucault travelled there to shoot the local solar trade for Quartz’s new book. His images reveal a bustling trading city with store after store selling solar panels, solar powered water heaters and other goods coveted by North Korean buyers.

Mathery
You may not have seen these objects before, but they’ve already changed the way you live.

From photos of Dandong’s rooftops, you can see that solar devices are popular in China as well. On the Friendship Bridge connecting Dandong with Sinujui, North Korea, locals and tourists snap selfies while staring across the river at Sinujui’s pastel-colored ferris wheel.

Tensions have since flared in the region, as North Korea flaunted its nuclear capabilities with a series of belligerent statements towards South Korea and the United States throughout the summer. Recent United Nations sanctions currently limit the the goods that can be traded across the Friendship Bridge, but the markets selling solar devices aren’t reporting much of a change in business, reports AFP.

In fact, they’re thriving just as always.

Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A view of North Korean side as seen from the end of the Broken Bridge.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
The outside of a store selling solar panels inside Dandong Liantong Gymnasium in Dandong
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A street scene in Dandong

 

Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Locals practice of tai chi near Dandong Liantong Gymnasium.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A truck passes the check-point on the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge before entering Dandong.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A man poses for a photo at the end of the Broken Bridge facing North Korea.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Tourists pose for a photo on the Yalu River Broken Bridge.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A store window displays both North and South Korean flags.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Front of a store selling solar panels near Dandong Liantong Gymnasium.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
The inside of a store selling water-heating solar panels near Dandong Liantong Gymnasium.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
A storekeeper demonstrates the use of a portable solar panel.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Two store-keepers stand in their shop near Dandong Liantong Gymnasium.
Aurelien Foucault for Quartz
Dandong Liantong Gymnasium, where many solar panel stores can be found.

Check out Quartz’s new book The Objects that Power the Global Economy.