As Mirrors Beam Light To Town, Norwegians Share Patch Of Sun

Nov 3, 2013

The small town of Rjukan has long had to make do without sunlight during the cold Norwegian winters.

But that changed Wednesday, when the town debuted a system of high-tech mirrors to reflect sunlight from neighboring peaks into the valley below.

Rjukan, originally founded 100 years ago as an industrial outpost for the energy company Norsk Hydro, is nestled between several mountains and does not receive direct sunlight from late September to mid-March — nearly six months out of the year.

"Of course, we notice it when the sun is shining," says Karin Ro, who works for the town's tourism office. "We see the sky is blue, and then we see that down in the valley it's darker — it's like on a cloudy day."

Wednesday, residents of Rjukan received their first dose of winter sun down in the valley: A series of reflective panels on a nearby mountainside were put to use for the very first time.

The mirrors are controlled by a computer that directs them to shift along with the sun throughout the day (and to pivot closed during windy weather). They reflect a concentrated beam of light onto the town's central square, creating an elliptical patch of sunlight roughly 600 square meters. When the light appeared, Rjukan residents flocked together.

"People have been sitting there and standing there and taking pictures of each other," Ro tells NPR's Arun Rath. "The town square was totally full. We are not that big of a town, so I think almost all the people in the town were on the town square."

The 3,500 residents cannot all bask in the sun at the same time. Nevertheless, Ro says, the new light supplied by these mirrors feels like more than enough for the town's sun-starved residents.

"It's not very big," she says, "but it is enough when we are sharing."

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If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

It's November and the nights are getting longer, for some of us depressingly so. But the Norwegian town of Rjukan has it really bad. For almost half the year, it is entirely in shadows. Mountains that surround the town kill the little bit of direct sunlight they get in the winter. But this week, things got brighter in Rjukan with the installation of a system of mirrors to shine some sunlight on the town. Karin Ro lives there, and she joins me now. Karin, thanks for being with us.

KARIN RO: Yes, my pleasure.

RATH: First off, am I pronouncing the name of the town correctly, Rjukan?

RO: Almost. It's Rjukan.

RATH: Rjukan.

RO: Yeah.

RATH: So just how dark is it - you know, before the mirrors were installed, how dark is it?

RO: It's not like in northern Norway, like it's dark all day. But, of course, we notice it when the sun is shining. And we see the sky is blue, then we see that down in the valley, it's darker. It's like on a cloudy day.

RATH: And how many months of the year is it that you have that kind of darkness?

RO: It's about six months a year, from late September till in the middle of March.

RATH: Wow. Do people get sad during that time?

RO: It is colder. It is darker. But that's how it is in Norway anyway.

RATH: So what was it like when they installed the mirrors this week?

RO: It was wonderful. We had sun today, as well, and people have been sitting there or standing there and taking pictures of each other. And the town square was totally full. We are not that big a town, so I think almost all people in the town were on the town square.

RATH: With the giant mirrors, is it like having another sun up there in the hill? What does it look like?

RO: The mirrors are like squares, so it doesn't look like sun. But when the sun is shining on the mirrors, it's a very sharp lighting. So it's reflecting the sunlight down to the square.

RATH: How big is the patch of sunlight? Is there enough for everybody?


RATH: Not at one time. It's about 600 square meters. So it's not very big. But it's enough when we are sharing.

Now, I know that far north you also get the very long daytimes in the summertime. So does that mean you get double sunlight in the summertime as well?


RO: We don't know. But we have to check it out when the summer's coming because maybe this will be too warm.

RATH: Do you think it's going to change life dramatically for people in the town?

RO: People are already happier. We have got so much feedback, yeah, from the opening day. I don't think it will change dramatically, but I think it will change people's lives, yes.

RATH: Karin, thank you so much.

RO: You're welcome. My pleasure.

RATH: That's Karin Ro. She works for the tourism office in - I'm sorry, can you say the name of the town again?

RO: Rjukan.

RATH: I'll leave that to you. Thank you, again.

RO: Thank you. Bye.


NOAH AND THE WHALE: (Singing) And there'll be sun, sun, sun all over our bodies. And sun, sun, sun, all down our necks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.