A century ago Hydro founder Sam Eyde hatched the idea of beaming sunlight from giant mirrors in the mountains and down into the narrow, winter-dark valley of the then all-new industrial town of Rjukan. Now high-tech, computer-controlled and solar-powered reflectors are finally perching high up the mountainside, ready to bring to life Eyde's grand scheme to light up Rjukan during the months of shade.
Hydro's Energy business area and the Tinn municipality signed today an agreement whereby Hydro becomes main sponsor of the NOK 5 million project, due to open at the end of October and reflect the sun on Rjukan's town square to allow the town's 3,500 inhabitants an easy escape from winter gloom.
"Sam Eyde was often described as a force of nature by his contemporaries, and everything he did was on a monumental scale," says Hydro President and CEO Svein Richard Brandtzæg. "We are honored to become part of realizing one of Eyde's many flashes of genius, illustrating the vision and determination of our founding father."
Often referred to as the birthplace of Hydro, Rjukan became the start of Eyde's industrial adventure based on harnessing the power of the Rjukan Waterfall – which, with its annual production of 3 TWh renewable hydropower, remains a vibrant part of Hydro as an integrated global aluminium company.
"It is a historically strong point that Hydro is now entering this project as main sponsor, 100 years after Hydro founder Eyde first seized on the idea: Rjukan was built on new technology, and it is new technology that is now the basis for the sun mirror," says Steinar Bergsland, mayor of the Tinn municipality in the Telemark county.
"We very much appreciate that Hydro is contributing towards innovative ideas at Rjukan," he adds.
Aiming to bend the laws of nature for his workers
The sun mirror idea could today be described as a large-scale work/life balance initiative. At the time, Eyde had just transformed Rjukan from a tiny farming community into an ultra-modern industrial town for its time, providing for more than 10,000 workers with everything from architect-designed housing with indoor plumbing to health care services and recreational activities.
As long-distance power transmission was technically unfeasible at the time, Eyde's industrial master plan required his industrial town to be placed right at the source of power at the bottom of the Rjukan Waterfall, meaning it was was out of the sun's reach during winter. But rather than to accept the gloomy winter months on behalf of his workers, Eyde's reaction was to look at ways to bend the laws of nature in their favor – and he followed up the initial idea of a Rjukan worker to mount a giant sun mirror on the mountainside.
In the end, a gondola to bring workers up to the sun, rather than mirrors to bring it down to them, proved a more realistic alternative. Hydro duly built the "Krossobanen" cable car system from Rjukan and up to the sun at the top of Gvepseborg, which stood ready in 1928 as the first of its kind in Scandinanvia.
Thanks to local initiative and support by the Tinn municipality, the sun mirror has finally become a reality, bringing together the past and the present in a way that would have made Eyde proud. Today, Hydro is equally proud to be part of what can only be described as a truly bright idea, illuminating Hydro's ambition for another 100 years in aluminium, the metal of the future.