Norwegian Town Uses Mirrors to Bring in Some Sunlight

Photo courtesy of visitnorway.com.

Photo courtesy of visitnorway.com.

Moving the steep, surrounding mountains that deny sunlight into the valley for nearly half the year wasn’t possible. As such, Martin Andersen assumed the mantle on realizing an existing idea that would instead bring the sunlight to the Norwegian village of Rjukan.

Three computer-driven heliostasts – or sun mirrors – have proven to be a solution to a vexing problem that has plagued the small, industrial town for a century. Placed at the top of a steep mountain wall more than 1,300 feet above the town, the three sophisticated mirrors that just went into operation this week are designed to follow the sun’s movement over the horizon and reflect its rays into Rjukan´s market square in the center of town. The mirrors automatically rotate clockwise to ensure a 6,500-square foot beam of sunshine in an area of the square, becoming Rjukan’s sunny meeting place in a town otherwise draped in darkness for nearly half the year.

“It’s for the pale little children of Rjukan,” Andersen said in an interview with UPI.

“It will be strongest in the middle, and will get weaker and weaker out to the edges. You will have the sensation of sun when you are in the middle. You will feel the heat and you will see shadows.”

Rjukan, however, is not the first sunlight-starved city to have turned to mirrors for relief. Viganella, Italy is likewise situated in a deep valley where mountains block the sun’s rays for up to six months during the winter season. Viganella completed its huge computer-controlled mirror in 2006.

Known previously for its grand waterfall and bungee jumping, Rjukan is deprived of sunlight for the months of September through March because of the surrounding mountains, according to Norway’s official travel website, www.visitnorway.com. Funding for the nearly $800K project designed to alleviate the problem came from Norsk Hydro, the power company that founded the town in 1905, public art body Koro and the municipality itself. Town officials expect “The Solspeil,” as the project is officially called, to strengthen its identity and attraction.

So far, so good as Rjukan has basked in media attention from all over the globe.

“It’s a little crazy project, but we’ve got an absolutely huge response from media worldwide,” says mayor Steinar Berg Land of Tinn municipality in an interview with the news agency NTB. “It is amazing.”

The idea is hardly new as town founder Sam Eyde first conceived the concept of developing a sun mirror in 1913. His successors later built a gondola to transport Rjukan’s inhabitants over the mountains to the winter sunshine, but it’s only now that Eyde’s vision has become technologically feasible.

Andersen, a local artist who lives in Rjukan, began championing the cause in 2005 to have the mirrors built.

The mirrors, which are each roughly 56 feet in area, sit on two axes that control its movements, while a previously-installed computer program tracks the sun’s route for the entire year, according to the town website. The mirrors, which automatically clean themselves, are guided by wireless computer communication from the market square below and powered by solar and wind energy.

“The attention just before its opening is enormous,” Andersen says. “It spreads everywhere and it’s making people happy.”

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