Klaus kissed his wife as he rose from the bed. She smiled, and in an unconscious act reached for him, to stay together a few more minutes. But he had to reject her, had to switch his mind back to the scholar and researcher, not the loving husband. One by one, the feelings he usually felt were replaced by calculations and methods. It was early in the morning when he began to compile all the relevant data, and he wouldn't stop until noon, having refilled his dip pen a hundred times at the moment he felt he had parsed it all. He knew it was encouraging, as the profits of his associates had exploded since the adoption of solar-powered incandescent lighting in the mines. Only in winter did production return to normal levels, as the concentrators didn't provide enough heat for the Stirling generators to produce measurable power. And so it was in winter when he had time to think in the long term, to evaluate new ideas and study the myriad of factors that would affect the production of this new form of energy. And to communicate with the larger world.
The President of Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft
Doctor Hermann Knoblauch
Subject: Developments in Solar Energy Production
Accompanying this letter is the compiled data on the latest developments in generation of energy via concentrated solar power. In brief, solar energy appears to be an economically viable form of producing power for industrial and domestic purposes, provided the climate is suitable. Experience providing power for a local mining operation has proved profitable enough (balance sheets and cash flow statements are included), with the caveat that the scale of the project wasn't large enough to observe diminishing returns or economies of scale. Technical issues still require attention, but I am of the opinion that these issues are secondary to the study of the economic viability of these systems. A rough estimate suggest that solar energy is a viable alternative to coal as far north as Liguria, and would out-compete south of Tripoli.
Even with the obvious limitation of intermittency, the power that can be extracted from Solar Concentrators could greatly help the efforts of German colonies in warm climates, and make currently underused or unwanted places of the globe profitable.
Thus, I humbly request to expand operations in Syracuse, and to assemble a team of technicians and economists that can effectively study the behaviour of an industrial scale solar power plant.
Doctor in Physics
It was almost midnight by the time he wrote that last word, and plates with crumbs surrounded his desk. How they got there, and where the sun went that day, Klaus had no idea.
Morgan Cottrell was furious. It was a cold, studied, pleasant
fury he could only feel against a worthy challenger. The kind of emotion he felt in his college days, when he dueled and fought and played against others with the same mind. That the challenger was dead was merely a secondary concern, for the challenge was alive. Three mechanical engineers, a technical illustrator, two mathematicians and a logician, all veterans on the top of their fields... all had trouble understanding the notes left behind by Charles Babbage, thanks in large part due to the man horrendous caligraphy. Only when an anthropologist who specialized in Mesoamerican writing systems joined the team and started deciphering the notes did they begin to make notable progress.
It was maddening. For him, as there was little he could do beyond directing their men and give educated guesses. But also for the team he and Bucknell had assembled. For each step forward deciphering and understanding a system of the thinking machine, there was a chance for a step back. A note that changed the meaning of the previous page, a system that needed to be installed in one particular way, an ambiguous phrase. And yet, the principles of the machine were sound, the subsystems that made all work had a logical basis and weren't the random writings of an eccentric madman.
No, it was the work of a genius, of a mind that saw exploits and shortcuts where others only saw randomness. Cottrell was an arrogant man, but he knew he wasn't a genius. Intelligent, yes. Extremely so, if his success was any indication, but he knew his mind was mundane. He could be successful in any field if he committed to it, but he would never revolutionize it.
But there were advantages to mundane intelligence. When the team finally understood the operating principles of the Analytical Engine, he spent an entire day getting briefed on the systems involved. He asked questions, made some guesses (most of which were shot down as unfeasible) and, at last, gave an educated opinion: to focus one day a week to research the notes, and the other four to study, replicate, and - if possible - upgrade the data retention subsystem, which was soon dubbed "the archive". It only made sense to start by one of the extremes of a machine that stored and processed data, instead of trying to understand the totality of it at once.
Progress would be slow, but certain.
Augustin Mouchot knew knew or a fact that he could stop working at any moment and enjoy a comfortable life. The business he and his Chilean partners had founded was booming. Chile was a small market, but the success of the water heater was enough to fund the company for the foreseeable future. Soon, operations in Europe would begin and cooling devices would hit the market.
He looked at his room, one of the most luxurious in the best hotel in Santiago, and yet a trivial expenditure now. He looked and understood that this was what success looked like. And success that arrived on an idea he originally opposed, which was a lesson he took to heart. How much of his previous failures were due to circumstances, and how many were the result of his own temper? Could he have achieved success earlier if he had been less ambitious?
It didn't matter now. The past couldn't be changed, but he still had twenty or so years to make a mark on the world. To have his ambition, now tempered by wisdom and helpful criticism, fulfilled.
He joined Madame Goyenechea for a morning coffee at the Hotel's café. She wore her usual black mourning dress, but was of a cheerful disposition. To her, the incoming events of the evening were either routine or beneath her notice, and so she talked about them in an almost casual tone. She was accustomed to speaking with politicians and Heads of State. That Mouchot wasn't
didn't occur to her until she heard him speak.
- Something is wrong, Docteur
- I... I don't know if I will be able to stand up and speak to the Congress. I once spoke with Napoleon III, but then my ideas were just a pipe dream and I was begging for funding. Now... now I'll be asking a whole country to take a risky bet.
- Is it a bet, though? I've seen the data: even in Lota, your water heaters can outperform coal burning boilers. Maybe not every day, like in Atacama, but my coal workers have gotten used to warm showers thanks to your solar-powered devices. In the North, where the sun always shines, they will make coal irrelevant. And then... - She pointed towards a lightbulb. The Gran Hotel Ingles
was the first of its kind to count with electrical lighting. - ... there's this. Today this hotel uses a generator, but that's not practical for every home. Large scale power plants will be needed in a few years, and power will have to come from somewhere.
- It is the nature of progress, I understand. But you are not in the laboratory, nor do you understand the myriad of problems we must solve at the scales we're working on. The copper mining project is orders of magnitude above what we've currently producing. We're not even aware of the nature of the problems we will face with a device that could produce thousands of Horsepower.
- Is it a problem of funding? I can provide as much funding as needed to see this project through.
- It isn't funding. The Franco-Chilena
is doing quite well, and the experts we hired are among the best in France. We can hire more as the need arises, but things still take time. Identifying problems take time, let alone solving them. We're working with things that didn't exist fifteen years ago, taking on a technology that's quite mature.
- Augustin, I am of the mind that your speech this evening will make the 20th Century. The world revolves around coal now, and in twenty years it will revolve around oil. But what we do in Atacama in this coming decade will make the world revolve around the sun.
"What we do in the Atacama Desert will make or break the 20th Century" were the words with which Augustin Mouchot started his speech in front of the Chilean Congress. Ignoring for a second the dramatism, the idea behind Moucho's speech was sound: The Society for the Exploitation of Atacama would be a testbed for large-scale Solar power generation and related technologies. Although a cautious project that contemplated integration with conventional alternatives (inadvertently creating a precedent for the 'Dual-Feed' design ethos that would come to dominate the generation of heat in the 1920s and 1930s), the project was also an ambitious leap for the Franco-Chilena, which had gathered experience manufacturing solar ovens for bakeries and small industrial plants, but didn't know much about melting several tons of metal ore.
As the 1880s were reaching their end, it was becoming increasingly clear that solar power generation was technically feasible. The 1890s would be the decade in which this new technology would need to prove its economical viability.