Giant mirrors bring winter sun to Norwegian village

October 27, 2013 by Pierre-Henry Deshayes
People gather on a spot in front of the town hall of Rjukan, Norway, on October 18, 2013

Residents of a remote village nestled in a steep-sided valley in southern Norway are about to enjoy winter sunlight for the first time ever thanks to giant mirrors.

The mountains that surround the of Rjukan are far from Himalayan, but they are high enough to deprive its 3,500 inhabitants of direct sunlight for six months a year.

That was before a century-old idea, as old as Rjukan itself, was brought to life: to install on a 400-metre (437-yard) high peak to deflect sunrays towards the central square.

"The idea was a little crazy, but madness is our middle name," said Oeystein Haugan, a local project coordinator.

"When Rjukan was founded, it was a bit crazy to start a community in the middle of nowhere with this massive , huge pipes and a railway line to transport fertiliser to the rest of the world," he added.

It was first mooted by Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, at whose behest Rjukan was established.

Eyde founded Norsk Hydro and wanted to take advantage of an enormous waterfall to produce chemical fertilisers.

From just 300 inhabitants spread out across scattered farms in 1900, the population grew to 10,000 by 1913 and the ambitious industrialist endorsed a project to deflect sunrays into the village.

Three giant mirrors errected on the mountainside above Rjukan, Norway, reflect sunshine towards the center of the town, on October 18, 2013
"It's one of the few projects that Eyde was unable to complete, due to a lack of appropriate technology," mayor Steinar Bergsland said.

Instead he built a cable car, which is still in use, to allow his employees to recharge their vitamin D levels with sunlight on a mountain top.

An artist Martin Andersen, who arrived in the village from Paris, picked up the idea around ten years ago.

"The further we got into winter, the further we had to drive out of the valley to enjoy . So I asked myself: why not move the sunrays instead of moving ourselves?" he explained.

The idea was challenged by other residents who questioned the appropriateness of investing public money in the project instead of in nurseries and schools.

"Some labelled it a Mickey Mouse project and it's true it's a little insane, but we have to think out of the box and explore new paths," the mayor said.

Five million kroner (615,000 euro, $849,000) was raised for the project—four million from sponsors—and now three 17-square-metre (183-square-feet) mirrors tower over the north side of Rjukan village.

A computer will control the mirrors so that they follow the sun to reflect the light on the market square, lighting up a 600-square-metre (6,459-square-feet) elliptical area.

The inauguration is scheduled for sometime next week, depending on weather conditions.

"After basking in the sun, people are beaming themselves," Haugan said after the final tests.

Besides getting more cheerful citizens, local authorities hope to capitalise on the extensive media coverage of the feat to bring in more tourists.

Encouraged by its expected tourist revival, Rjukan even hopes to be included in the Unesco World Heritage List by 2015, as an example of human industrial genius.

"We have already recovered our investment dozens of times over. Maybe not in cold, hard cash for the local council but in publicity and marketing value," administrative head of the municipality Rune Loedoeen said.

"Now it's up to us to manage this asset properly."

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5 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2013
Back in 1994 we had moved from a sunny property to one where the sun disappeared for the winter because of a forest, but there was still sun across the glen, our chickens had quit laying eggs, so I set up some framed door mirrors and moved them as the sun moved, focusing the light on the chickens and it improved our egg production.
3.2 / 5 (20) Oct 27, 2013
So they live in a place where the sun doesn't shine? (Hmm, that sounded wrong lol!)

Must be pretty depressing to live there.
2.6 / 5 (10) Oct 28, 2013
This reflects well on the Norwegians.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 28, 2013
An obsolete industrial town with a population of 3000 gets more care and attention than Detroit.
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 28, 2013
There are places on the moon those people would feel at home in.
1 / 5 (9) Oct 28, 2013
These comments sound like a corn contest,but then we have a lot of sun here in the USA.
3.3 / 5 (3) Oct 28, 2013
An obsolete industrial town with a population of 3000 gets more care and attention than Detroit.

Well...Detroit is an obsolete industrial town, too, isn't it?
And it has plenty of sunlight. So what's the problem?
(That one of the towns in your comparison are in the US and one is in Norway might also have to do something with the fact that different amounts of care are given to residents, though)

Is it worth of illumination of few square meters of asphalt few hours per day?

It is, because living in long term twilight conditions tends to see depression and suicide figures rise.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2013
If a Vitamin D source is the rationaIe for this reflecting device, I presume the designers will remember to use materials that reflect ultraviolet radiation as well as visible light.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 28, 2013
My only question is why they didn't make the mirror bank large enough to illuminate the entire town, not just the market square. If it meant that every resident would get some of that reflected sunlight at their home, seems they would be more enthusiastic about the expenditure.
3.3 / 5 (4) Oct 28, 2013
What's the effect on local climate change there?

None. Because you're not adding energy. You're simply redirecting energy from place A to place B.

My only question is why they didn't make the mirror bank large enough to illuminate the entire town

Because if you do something that costs a substantial amount of money you first test with a smaller installation. If the test is successfull (by some objective metric) then you make it larger. That's basically what you do in all areas of engineering (be it building houses, rockets, bridges, software, whatever )
1 / 5 (3) Oct 28, 2013
There are elements in norway that may take issue with this sentiment.

"18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." john 3

4 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2013
In the little village of Viganella, sited in a narrow valley of Italian Alps, since 2006 an "heliostat" lights up the dark winters days. See http://www.oddity...sun.html or .
3 / 5 (18) Oct 28, 2013
So they live in a place where the sun doesn't shine? (Hmm, that sounded wrong lol!)

Must be pretty depressing to live there.

There is no direct sunlight for several months of the year, not the entire year.

Oops, yeah you're right. I guess rates of depression and Vitamin D deficiency must skyrocket there during the winter months. Let's just hope they don't get a lot of rain and cloudy days.

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