Solar Dreams: a history of solar energy (1878 - 2025)

So France seems to be falling behind the other Great Powers in the Solar game.
*Angry French marshal pounding a table, mustache quivering gloriously*: “We cannot allow a zolar gap! For ze glory of la belle Republique, we must either surpass perfidious Albion, or find some manner of blotting out ze sun!”

“A-albion? What of ze Prussians?”

“Bah. Oui, oui, we must surpass zoze barbarians as well. I zuppose.”
 
France does have its N. African holdings to use for the sun though. They will catch up I am sure, eventually. Probably as a side effect of what is going on in Egypt.
 
UH OH. Big Butterflies incoming.

Wait, no! I meant Alexander III, not Nicholas II. Nicky's just fine being his pompous self.

Wouldn't the solar revolution and the high temperature generated as a result, plus the limits of steam engines, lead to an earlier and perhaps actually long lived mercury turbine?

To be honest, I have not heard of this technology before, so I didn't consider it. I don't know how to integrate it, or even if it will change much. I'll have to learn more about it.

Very good chapter, a nice worldview of how our different actors are doing.

Fritts' techonology is just to advanced for the time, without a complete scientific undestanding of the phenomenon. Efficiency is just aroud 1%, with very expensive components (selenium as semiconductor with thin layers of gold). Taking a quick look around, it wasn't untill Russell Ohl discoveries on silicon's impurities and subsequent development of silicon P/N junction cells in late 1930s/early 1940s that a better alternative was aviable, rising efficiency up to 5%. And even then, for large-scale treatment for passivating (further removing of defects) for silicon semiconductors we'll have to wait the pioneering work of Mohamed Atalla's team at Bell Laboratories in 1957-1959, if I remember correctly (though his work was even more crucial for integrated circuits, which we are not interested in right now).

Fritts (and/or George Cove) discovery was rather useful as light sensors for photocameras. So, maybe they can be integrated (somehow) as a component for automatic control of mirrors' orientation.

I have something planned for silicon, as it is a better thermal battery than plain sand (silicon oxide) and would attract the attention of the Franco-Chilena.

However, having semiconductors and especially the P/N junction being discovered in Chile sounds a bit to wankish to me. I'm already giving my country an unlimited energy source and an revolutionary technology, and narratively it would feel cheap to also hog the glory of a second paradigm-shifting breakthrough.

However, the Fritts Solar Cell works on the same principle than modern photovoltaics (photons hitting the outer electron and making it jump), so once Rutherford's atomic model is understood and electronic structures discovered, the P/N junction should be much more obvious than OTL.

Earlier silicon photovoltaics and electronics are almost a given at this point. Just not from Chile.

I found a pretty cool design for something like this which I'd posted here: https://www.alternatehistory.com/fo...energy-1878-2025.503717/page-18#post-23997127 Basically, you set it up so there's four arrays, divided by some kind of panel which partially shadows the four arrays if not pointed directly at the sun. You connect circuits to subtract the voltage of the four arrays in pairs, and then set it up to use that (via relays or something) to control more powerful circuits to drive motors. If you start off within maybe 20-30 degrees of the sun's positions, when the voltage between the two pairs is zero, the system is pointing directly at the sun (or completely in shadow because you didn't start off pointed near enough to the sun).

Oh, I have something coming along those lines. Suntracking is one of the problems of this era, and having early photosensors would be very helpful.

I see Tahira forming a women's group to supply solar boilers and trainers to remote communities.

Tahira's journey is far from over at this point.

So France seems to be falling behind the other Great Powers in the Solar game.
*Angry French marshal pounding a table, mustache quivering gloriously*: “We cannot allow a zolar gap! For ze glory of la belle Republique, we must either surpass perfidious Albion, or find some manner of blotting out ze sun!”

“A-albion? What of ze Prussians?”

“Bah. Oui, oui, we must surpass zoze barbarians as well. I zuppose.”
They must be kicking themselves for cutting Mouchot's funding all these years ago.
France does have its N. African holdings to use for the sun though. They will catch up I am sure, eventually. Probably as a side effect of what is going on in Egypt.

I am having trouble fitting narratively the work of Abel Pifre in this timeline. He was a colleague and contemporary to Mouchot, and continued his work into Concentrated Solar in OTL. 1895 will be the year of reckoning for anyone still not aware of the potential of Solar energy, as the first industrial-scale operations begin in the Chilean copper refineries.

The natural option is to incorporate Pifre's work and give him an obscene amount of funding to catch up to the Germans at the very least.
 
Earlier silicon photovoltaics and electronics are almost a given at this point. Just not from Chile.
That... I don't know. The rediscovery of Babbage and Lovelace work will surely accelerate the development of calculators, but there are an astounding number of middle steps necessary. Mechanical and later electromechanical calculators are fairly doable a little earlier than OTL. Rudimentary "programs" are even more plausible, since it's mostly a logical problem, rather than technological.

Continuing OTL, for the first examples of crude transistors (in theory, at least) we have Lillenfield (1925) and Heil (1935), though it's not untill Shockley's work for Bell Labs that we have an actual patent in 1948. Before that, early electromechanical calculators used telephone relays (electromechanic) and/or vacuum tubes (electronic), contributing for their massive size. Zuse's works are a perfect example of the maximum plausible development for full-programmable digital electormechanic computers, weighting around a ton each, having thousands of relays producing just a few Hz of computational power. Another machine, the Atanasoff-Berry computer, was fully electronic, weighted a third of Z3/Z4 and had a CPU half more powerful, but it was not programmable.

It was only thanks to the war that the extremely expensive prototypes were designed and built. Otherwise there would be scarcely any reason that would make those colossi economically advantageous in front of their staggering costs of development. Simplier, smaller ones will probably have more fortune, considering also the necessity of maintenance. Ergonomics weren't really a thing untill the 1940s (despite commendable exceptions), so if a small component of a very big calculator broke down, the technician responsible had in front of him a truly gargantuan work to do.
 
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Vacuum tubes are not a necessary step before getting to digital computers, and they were not really that 'mainstream' until the mid 1910s, with the introduction of the amplifier. This period is interesting that while people looked into vacuum technology, just as many looked into solid-state technology, creating all sorts of diodes, double diodes, rectifiers etc.

You could build a resistor-diode digital computer pretty easy, only, you need some amplifiers to keep the signal strong.
 
This latest chapter continues the story excellently. Solar heaters and solar panels will lead to more research towards non fossil fuel energy sources. Early computing might also revolutionize many fields of science and engineering. There are so many changes that I cannot possibly even think of them all in my limited time.
Great work!
 
France does have its N. African holdings to use for the sun though. They will catch up I am sure, eventually. Probably as a side effect of what is going on in Egypt.
I wonder about the social implications of that. Especially if Arabic-speaking Algerians start importing Egyptian-made solar boilers. They're being taken as a symbol of Arab nationalism in Egypt...so buying one in Algeria and Morocco is already a potential political statement. The French can crack down on them...at the cost of disease and poverty in their colony. Or they can start making their own copycats, but that won't help the image much--it'll still be taken as the French copying an English or Arab innovation. Solar boilers have the potential to be a real political flashpoint in Algeria.

I would suggest Mauritania and its mines as a place that would benefit from the Franco-Chilena's engines, but France hadn't yet extended her rule to Mauritania until the 1900s, and AFAIK mining in that area wouldn't develop for decades more. Though perhaps, ITTL, you'd see a combined Moroccan-Mauritanian Crisis as Germany, instead, tries to insert itself there--armed with solar furnaces and a vision of iron mines.
 
I wonder about the social implications of that. Especially if Arabic-speaking Algerians start importing Egyptian-made solar boilers. They're being taken as a symbol of Arab nationalism in Egypt...so buying one in Algeria and Morocco is already a potential political statement. The French can crack down on them...at the cost of disease and poverty in their colony. Or they can start making their own copycats, but that won't help the image much--it'll still be taken as the French copying an English or Arab innovation. Solar boilers have the potential to be a real political flashpoint in Algeria.

I would suggest Mauritania and its mines as a place that would benefit from the Franco-Chilena's engines, but France hadn't yet extended her rule to Mauritania until the 1900s, and AFAIK mining in that area wouldn't develop for decades more. Though perhaps, ITTL, you'd see a combined Moroccan-Mauritanian Crisis as Germany, instead, tries to insert itself there--armed with solar furnaces and a vision of iron mines.
France must be really kicking themselves over letting Mouchot go.
 
It took a while to write because I was tied with IRL stuff, and because the scheduled events in the timeline required to show where every "branch" was heading before 1895 and the introduction of more branches. This is also why the focus is less plot-driven and more like a chronicle of events for them.

Good stuff though, worth the wait.

I haven't decided on the US political landscape of the 1900s just yet. The second Cleveland administration is somewhat of a convergence to OTL, but one caused by the Egan Affair and the subsequent discrediting of the Harrison administration.

Well no real problems as long as you remember that it was Edison who invented it all and also has the patents :)

Randy
 
That... I don't know. The rediscovery of Babbage and Lovelace work will surely accelerate the development of calculators, but there are an astounding number of middle steps necessary. Mechanical and later electromechanical calculators are fairly doable a little earlier than OTL. Rudimentary "programs" are even more plausible, since it's mostly a logical problem, rather than technological.

Continuing OTL, for the first examples of crude transistors (in theory, at least) we have Lillenfield (1925) and Heil (1935), though it's not untill Shockley's work for Bell Labs that we have an actual patent in 1948. Before that, early electromechanical calculators used telephone relays (electromechanic) and/or vacuum tubes (electronic), contributing for their massive size. Zuse's works are a perfect example of the maximum plausible development for full-programmable digital electormechanic computers, weighting around a ton each, having thousands of relays producing just a few Hz of computational power. Another machine, the Atanasoff-Berry computer, was fully electronic, weighted a third of Z3/Z4 and had a CPU half more powerful, but it was not programmable.

It was only thanks to the war that the extremely expensive prototypes were designed and built. Otherwise there would be scarcely any reason that would make those colossi economically advantageous in front of their staggering costs of development. Simplier, smaller ones will probably have more fortune, considering also the necessity of maintenance. Ergonomics weren't really a thing untill the 1940s (despite commendable exceptions), so if a small component of a very big calculator broke down, the technician responsible had in front of him a truly gargantuan work to do.

I might be mixing a bit the narrative aspects with the technical ones, as the "solid state electronics not being developed in Chile" is purely authorial fiat on my part. Especially when considering that research into the material properties of pure Silicon would spring naturally in the place where it is used as a thermal battery.

Pure-ish Silicon would have advantages over silica, having a high heat of fusion (1.8 kJ/g vs 159 J/g) and a higher density, allowing it to cram more energy per cubic centimetre in a thermal battery.

Previous notes I've taken on this said that it shouldn't be too difficult to refine on site, although I don't have my notebook by my side to check.

Of course, a demand for Silicon doesn't mean a demand for ultra-pure Silicon, but it should put more eyes on the material making more experiments and studying it more exhaustively.

This makes me think that it is plausible to get earlier solid-state electronics, as there will be a demand for signal amplification once photo sensors are developed from Fritts and Cove photovoltaic systems (although the advantage of power consumption of transistors over triodes might be negated by the abundance of energy in solar installations).

However, solid state electronics and the P/N junction might not necessarily mean the development of logic gates and solid state computers. Machines derived from Babbage's design will become more sophisticated in the coming decades, and it is entirely possible that there's something akin to a bias regarding computers by that point. The obvious application for Silicon-based semiconductors ITTL would be in photovoltaics, which might mean that less research is oriented towards logic gates and computers.

In short, earlier solid state electronics are possible, and that includes earlier transistor-based computers... but it doesn't mean that people will make the connection right away. And certainly not with technology from the 1910s.

I wonder about the social implications of that. Especially if Arabic-speaking Algerians start importing Egyptian-made solar boilers. They're being taken as a symbol of Arab nationalism in Egypt...so buying one in Algeria and Morocco is already a potential political statement. The French can crack down on them...at the cost of disease and poverty in their colony. Or they can start making their own copycats, but that won't help the image much--it'll still be taken as the French copying an English or Arab innovation. Solar boilers have the potential to be a real political flashpoint in Algeria.

I would suggest Mauritania and its mines as a place that would benefit from the Franco-Chilena's engines, but France hadn't yet extended her rule to Mauritania until the 1900s, and AFAIK mining in that area wouldn't develop for decades more. Though perhaps, ITTL, you'd see a combined Moroccan-Mauritanian Crisis as Germany, instead, tries to insert itself there--armed with solar furnaces and a vision of iron mines.

As the development of solar-based infrastructure expands around the world and becomes a political issue, I wonder what would happen with the image of Mouchot in France. It could be possible that many start to resent him, thinking that he robbed France of a technological breakthrough that was rightfully theirs'.

Good catch on Algeria. It seems logical that the area where the political consequences of solar energy are more noticeable would be the Maghreb, as it is in the crossroads between the low-tech, practical approach of the Egyptian efforts, and the industrial-scale, technologically complex developments coming from Europe and the Americas. The same technology can be seen as both an instrument of pride and liberation, and a symbol of colonial power.

As for flashpoints between European powers in the next century, it's a bit too early to say anything.

Good stuff though, worth the wait.



Well no real problems as long as you remember that it was Edison who invented it all and also has the patents :)

Randy

About Edison, I am wondering just how much he and his many organizations would focus on the development of solar energy. The man focused mostly on things related to electricity, and he (and his organisations) might be unprepared or uninterested to deal with technologies relating to heat or mechanical power.

Although the heroic age of solar development is coming to a close in the coming years, there is a lot of room to tinker and improve. In the United States, this means that a lot of inventors will set their eyes on this new technology.
 
About Edison, I am wondering just how much he and his many organizations would focus on the development of solar energy. The man focused mostly on things related to electricity, and he (and his organizations) might be unprepared or uninterested to deal with technologies relating to heat or mechanical power.

In general I'd expect Edison to be interested in the direct generation of solar energy (solar voltaics) rather than heating or mechanical energy, but it really depends on how much the idea and technology take off in America. He'll probably find a way to attach his name to the idea of solar energy and play up aspects of it being used to generate electricity but probably won't put a great deal of effort into much actual work over generating patents he can hold.

I'll be honest, I can see him essentially stealing the best parts and processes from the middle eastern and European heater and hot water designs and marketing them in the US as "Edison Heaters" pretty much just to get his name attached to the new technology and for the money it would generate towards other "more interesting" projects.

Randy
 
Author's note
Although not an expert on any of the subjects I cover, I strive to do research about the different topics covered in this timeline. This sets limits to it that ultimately shape it into a more compelling story than just "Frenchman makes solar device, everything is better".

I resumed my research into the different subjects of this timeline to cover a few topics that will appear in the coming chapters. However, there's a complication that previously wasn't there:

It's becoming increasingly difficult to look for information on search engines. Google has made the first page of results effectively useless, and Bing gives slightly better results, but pushes heavily their dumb AI assistant (which I watched in dismay as it helpfully informed that the fusion heat of SilicON (Si) was the exact same as that of SilicA (SiO2)).

I am seriously considering buying physical books for reference in the future. The internet is becoming too unreliable, and I will need to learn how to comb for information without those two sites.
 
Although not an expert on any of the subjects I cover, I strive to do research about the different topics covered in this timeline. This sets limits to it that ultimately shape it into a more compelling story than just "Frenchman makes solar device, everything is better".

I resumed my research into the different subjects of this timeline to cover a few topics that will appear in the coming chapters. However, there's a complication that previously wasn't there:

It's becoming increasingly difficult to look for information on search engines. Google has made the first page of results effectively useless, and Bing gives slightly better results, but pushes heavily their dumb AI assistant (which I watched in dismay as it helpfully informed that the fusion heat of SilicON (Si) was the exact same as that of SilicA (SiO2)).

I am seriously considering buying physical books for reference in the future. The internet is becoming too unreliable, and I will need to learn how to comb for information without those two sites.
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