Mirrors light up sun-deprived lives in Norway's remote Rjukan village

Deprived of sunshine for half the year, people in Rjukan, Norway, revive a century-old solution

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 October, 2013, 5:13am


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

The mountains that surround Rjukan are not 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 was brought to life: to install mirrors on a 400-metre peak to deflect rays towards the square.

"The idea was a little crazy, but madness is our middle name," said Oeystein Haugan, a project co-ordinator.

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

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.

"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, still in use, to allow his employees to recharge their vitamin D levels with sunlight on a mountaintop.

Artist Martin Andersen, who arrived in the village from Paris, picked up the idea around 10 years ago.

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

Some residents questioned the appropriateness of using public money on such a project, but 5 million kroner (HK$6.57 million) was raised - four million from sponsors - and now three 17-square-metre 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. The inauguration is scheduled for the coming week.