Norsk Hydro returned to where it all began on Tuesday October 1 by agreeing to sponsor a project that realises the vision of Hydro’s founder, Sam Eyde, in the town where his industrial empire was born.

The project involves the placement of huge mirrors above the town of Rjukan in Norway to reflect sunlight during the sun-starved winter months.

Eyde, along with Norwegian and Swedish investors, bought the Rjukanfossen waterfall in 1902 in order to harness its power.

With the long-distance transfer of power unfeasible without huge energy loss at the time, Eyde’s industrial town – where Norsk Hydro would produce chemicals related to the production of fertilizer – had to be built next to its power source.

But this meant the town had to nestle in the valley of a mountain range, and throughout the long winter the sun is always hidden behind the nearby mountain of Gaustatoppen.

“Eyde’s reaction was to look at ways to bend the laws of nature in [the town’s] favour – and he followed up the initial idea of a Rjukan worker to mount a giant sun mirror on the mountainside,” Hydro explained. “[At the time, the solution was] a gondola to bring workers up to the sun, rather than mirrors to bring it down to them.”

But now technology has caught up with the imaginations of Eyde and his unnamed worker, and a sunlit Rjukan in mid-winter is finally going to be a reality. The project has cost NOK 5 million ($834,000), and the agreement with the Tinn municipality makes Hydro its main sponsor.

“It is a historically strong point that Hydro is now entering this project as its 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,” Steinar Bergsland, mayor of the Tinn municipality in the county of Telemark, said in a statement.

The hydropower plant in Rjukan remains a part of Hydro today, and the town still bears reminders of its illustrious benefactor.

The main road that runs through Rjukan is named for Eyde, and his statue in the centre of the Rjukan townhall square will see his vision realised, even if the man himself did not.

Jethro Wookey
Twitter: @jethrowookey_mb