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

Faster economic development and urbanization of the tropics with small/medium scale solar power means earlier demographic transition in alot of places. I suspect africa's population is at MOST half of OTL's by 2021.
 
Could industrial scale production of jerky, dried noodles, and other dehydrated foods be possible?
Something like the green house setup to keep things hot with solar powered fans to circulate the air.
 
Part 9
Part 9: Smoke and Mirrors

May, 1886
München, Imperial Germany


The winter had passed at last. The skies weren't too generous still, but they gave enough sunlight to perform continuous testing on his - and after all the improvements and modifications to the work done by Mouchot, it was his - machine. The cracked mirror was replaced by a bigger one, of a decomissioned telescope that would have otherwise been discarded. It was bigger, more precise. In fact, too precise for the job at hand, as it concentrated sunlight in an area so small that it melted the surface of the first Stirling engine he used to test it, severely limiting its efficiency. A concave lens had solved that problem, and the new engine worked quietly and without any problems.
Dr. Klaus Hess smiled, he felt proud on his creation, and confident enough in its potential to demonstrate it to Herman Knoblauch, the director of the Leopoldina. More importantly, he felt proud enough to show it to his wife.

It was a bright day when Knoblauch and his entourage came to his laboratory. It was one of modest size, but he recognized the golden symbols on the epaulettes of an officer. A General of some sort, which could have meant something important, but most likely was just signalled that that officer had some free time. The device itself was covered by a canvas to stop it from gathering dust, giving it the appearance of a towering spectre above the men. His assistants took the canvas and aimed the array towards the sun. A smaller sun appeared on the hot end of the Stirling engine, even when he had coated it with a dark iron alloy to absorb more light. A small push to the flywheel, and the engine woke up, cranking then hissing then humming as it gathered speed.

- Ladies and Gentlemen. Esteemed Director Knoblauch, it is my honour to show you the first Solar Electric Generator. This device alone can generate two horsepower without burning a single lump of coal, as long as the sun shines. Until now, we have harnessed the energy beneath our feet. Coal, and petroleum might power devices now, but this energy pales in comparison to that provided by the Sun. I have seen it in action, powering a factory in the middle of a merciless desert. I can see helping us to reach temperatures we have never dreamed before, providing I can see its future, helping the German People to bring civilization to the darkest parts of Africa, draining swamps, irrigating deserts, providing industry and honest work to those we consider savages. One day, I can see it powering entire cities... Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to soar above Icarus, to touch the sun and tame its power!

The people inspected the design, looking for any cable or sign of fraud, and found none. Knoblauch made some quick calculations on a notebook, and then called Klauss.

- Dr. Hess, if I'm not mistaken, this device is capturing about 12% of the energy it receives, isn't it?
- More, I'd say. It captures about 80% of the sun's heat. Then, it's almost Carnot-efficient... which is close to 60% of it. 48% before reaching the generator... which is where the greatest drop occurs.

- That's the problem with generators, unfortunately. But still... 50% thermal efficiency? You have something here, Dr. Hess. It could be very useful... perhaps not in the Ruhr where coal is abudant and the sun isn't. But places like Africa, southern Europe, even Austria-Hungary? It could greatly improve conditions, and power civilization... at least during the day. What about the night?
- That's a problem I haven't tackled right now. Batteries seem the most obvious solution, but a prohibitive one.

- Maybe one day batteries will solve that problem. Make no mistake, Klaus, this will be the issue that your devices will have to tackle to truly dispute with combustible fuels. This work is... satisfactory, but ill suited for this weather.

- Director, I've already been in a desert. I don't plan to go back to another.

- I wasn't thinking about a desert. Our neighbours to the south have some very sunny locations. Italy, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire should provide you with enough sunshine... and Germany would provide you with funding to match.

- I'll... have to think about it.

The two men were greeted by a voice with a foreign accent. A Danish accent, middle aged, but still somewhat youthful.

- Excuse me, I'm Poul la Cour and I couldn't help but congratulate you on your machine. Taking energy from the environment... it's something I've considered, too. I haven't started serious work just yet, but I belive that windmills can be improved to provide both mechanical and electrical power. I was wondering if we could exchange notes? I'd be glad to provide any assistance on subjects regarding electricity or meteorology.

- Sure, Herr La Cour. - Klaus said, a bit annoyed by the Dane's interference, which nevertheless rapidly faded as he remembered his own intrusion into Mouchot's work - Now that you mention it, if the wind can power a ship, it's only natural that it could power a town with a proper array of sails.

- Just as a proper array of these concentrators would. Truly amazing machines.

- This is actually a small device compared to what we saw in the Atacama desert. A crazy frenchman actually managed to power an entire factory with a solar concentrator. The sun there... it's downright brutal.

- The first of many, I hope. And if my calculations are correct, the wind contains a similar amount of power. If the sun can power a factory, maybe the wind can do the same.

As the first impression faded, Klaus found himself agreeing with the Dane inventor, sharing notes and ideas, and even arranging a meeting between La Cour and Hermann Knoblauch.

Eventually, the sun went too low for the concentrator to follow. The power quickly fell, and the engine stopped. The guests went their way, and Klaus found himself walking back home, with his wife Klara by his side. She was smiling, and a mild smirk hid beneath it.
- What are you plotting? - he asked.
- Nothing... I'm just so proud of you. I never knew I'd marry my own Prometheus.
- And yet, you're hiding something from me. - He teased her.
- Alright, you got me. - She said. - I found that speech a bit... melodramatic. "To soar like Icarus"?
- I... I actually wrote that one for you. You like those classical references.
- I know, my love. It's just that your style is drier. You thrive in it.

For just a moment, he considered asking her about moving south, to Italy or Croatia. Instead, he kissed her. That could wait a day or two, but this hour would never return.

Almonte, Tarapacá

Mouchot briefly considered if he should worry as much as Serrano and Puig did. His two colleagues were almost panicking by the imminent arrival of Madame Goyenechea and the industrialist delegation. Then he remembered his audience with Emperor Napoleon III, and just shrugged as both men kept running and yelling exasperated orders to the employees. He even had to tell both Chileans to knock it off, that they were starting to mistreat the force of labour. A few unlucky ones were chosen to serve as waiters in the impromptu tent set up for the ocasion.

No, Augustin wasn't worried. He had experience in this sort of things, and was sure that the Franco-Chilena would cause the correct impression on the visitors. So he sat and read his personal correspondence. He reserved the one with a Bolivian stamp for last. It came from that engineer from La Paz. He described the progress with the walipini design, and included some data that Lopez-Tikuña believed would be of interest to Mouchot. Augustin looked at the numbers and instantly recognized the mystery: even accounting the insultation provided by the design, the temperatures were higher than expected in cold days, and lower in hot ones. Lopez-Tikuña suspected that the ground itself carried a significant "temperature inertia", which he intented to investigate further, seeing the potential in this phenomenon.
"Remember that you can extract useful work from a temperature differential." - Mouchot wrote. - "If this temperature inertia is significant enough, it could further improve your design". He concluded the letter by wishing his son good health, and success in his research.
He briefly reflected on his predicament. In France, the center of civilization, he was mostly forgotten. On this unforgiving desert, he had vindicated his ideas. People were coming to see his machines in action, and he was ready to give them an spectacle worthy of the travel.

At noon the delegation arrived on a caravan of white, elegant coaches. The Mayor of Almonte also made himself present, although Mouchot wasn't sure which favour he tried to gain, and both his Chilean associates made sure he was welcomed, as long as he didn't interfere with the visit. Serrano and Puig had spared no expense. The factory was decorated and far cleaner than during its usual operation. Most of the workers were given the day off, with a few still working in case Madame Goyenechea or the other industrialists had any questions. Outside of it, his improved solar collector was hidden beneath a veil.
The industrialists were just as Mouchot had imagined... "people in top hats" would be his description of the bunch. However, his imagination totally failed to prepare him for Madame Goyenechea. He expected a happy comely widow, and instead she had a striking presence that separated from the crowd. She didn't seem to mind the burning sun, despite wearing the most strict mouring black. A few flaps of her fan, and it all went away.
With subdued panic, he realized that Puig and Serrano were right to demand perfection for the event. The two Chileans greeted her with the utmost respect and etiquette, and Mouchot feared he would faint in front of her.
- Monsieur Mouchot. C'est un honneur de vous recontrer. - She said, in a French with a slightly exagerated parisian accent.
- Le honneur est pour moi, Madame Goyenechea. - Mouchot answered.

Things then went through the motions. Puig led a tour through the factory was followed with a fancy lunch, and then Serrano presented some of the products already developed and sold.
And then, it was his turn to speak. Puig and Serrano prompted the visitors to the yard where they kept the Solar Collector. Mouchot walked towards the improved collector, a flower of mirrors seven meters across. A few targets behind him revealed his intentions, but Mouchot wasn't a man for theatrics, and so he didn't bother to hide them.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it might not seem like it, but you're standing inside a locomotive. This yard is currently getting the same amount of energy as the most powerful train boiler. Until recently, it was a source of energy untapped. And here, in this desert, we have made the first steps towards using it. The path wasn't always smooth, but today we can be certain that the future will be powered by the Sun. While we prepare the collector, please put on the protective goggles our staff is providing. - He set the example, protecting his eyes behind dark soldering glasses.

With that prompt, two workers dropped the canvas and revealed the collector. The mirrors gave an inverted reflection of the sky, and enlarged and distorted his own. The workers then pointed the collector towards, where the light bounced and focused onto a circle thirty centimeters across. The ray shone with the intensity of a hundred and fifty suns, bathing the whole scene into a harsh light.
- The power of the sun can be harnessed. Its heat can be collected and redirected to where we see fit. Be it to boil water. - and with that, the ray targeted a water tank especially set for the ocassion. For ten seconds nothing happened, then some timid bubbles began to surface. Within a minute, the water boiled. - or provide motive power via steam.
The ray moved to the combustion chamber of a portable engine. A labourer had to kickstart the flywheel, but once the machine started moving, it quickly accelerated.
He allowed the crowd to absorb what they were seeing, to understand its implications, before continuing.
- The sun can provide industrial quantities of heat. Enough heat to melt metals. - The ray set its aims to a bar of copper, weighting about 50 kilos. It should have glowed red, then yellow as it melted, but any emission was drowned by the concentrated sun's glare. That was the que to cover the mirror. Colors and soft shadows returned to the yard, allowing the liquid copper to hold some protagonism. One by one, the industrialists took off their goggles.
- This... this is incredible. - One of them said. - Imagine one of these in a mine.
- Oh, it's not incredible at all, Monsieur Barros Luco. So far, everything this machine does can be done with coal... and our machine has its own limitations against that black fuel.
- It obviously can't generate power at night. It's inadequate for some parts of the world, and it's at the mercy of the weather. - Mouchot looked at Serrano and Puig, both providing an entirely different type of glare.
- However, coal also has its limitations. For one, it needs to be hauled and distributed from the mine to the boiler. There's a limited amount of it, and once we have burned the last lump, we won't get any more. And more importantly... - he put his goggles back on. - it can't burn very hot. Not hot enough to boil iron. Ladies and gentlemen, please put them back on.
The curtain fell from the collector. The glare and the ray returned, this time aimed. There it bounced into a fresnel lens, concentrating the ray further onto a circle five centimeters across.
The ingot never stood a chance. It melted into a pool. It shone white hot, and then it began to boil just as he promised. Bubbles of gaseous metal appeared.

Then the fresnel lens shattered under the heat. With that, the demonstration was over. The collector was covered for good this time, and Mouchot was ready to answer any questions.

Later that evening

Most of the visitors had returned to Iquique that same afternoon. Isidora Goyenechea, on the other hand, set up a tent to stay overnight. Although "tent" didn't quite describe the extravagance of it. It was well lit, with carpets that hid the soil beneath and fine furniture. She had invited the three men in charge, and provided the hundred employees of the Franco-Chilena with fifteen lambs to roast.
- One should be grateful with the workers and treat them well. They're the cornerstone of any successful operation. - She said. - This is also true for our associates.
- A toast for them, then! - Puig said.
They lifted their glasses and drank. If it wasn't the finest wine Mouchot had ever tasted, it was as close as to make no difference. It also losened the tongue, or at least gave Mouchot the confidence to speak freely.
- Madame Goyenechea, if I might ask... why are you so interested in our company? Isn't our operation in direct competition to your business?
- Of course you are, and yet you are not. - She paused to take a sip. - If you only think in coal, then we are competitors. But coal also competes with electricity, and I'm investing in that as well. Electricity can do most of the things coal-powered steam does, and only time will tell what it will be capable of doing in the century to come. I suspect that your machines have a similar potential. I have seen it making a few dents on coal demand already, as my managers inform me that some neighbourhoods have drastically reduced their needs after they have installed your water heaters. I've experencied it myself: those heaters have paid for themselves with the amount of coal we saved. And with what you've showed us this day, I can foresee a day when coal might not be able to compete with the sun. I would almost say it's not fair to us, poor Coal Barons and Baronesses.
- I have dreamt of that day to be honest. Back in France, I built the first collector because coal was a strategic crutch. If either Germany or the United Kingdom declared war on us, their coal reserves were a significant advantage.
- War. Such a terrible thing. - Goyenechea said dismissively. - Let me ask you something in return, Monsieur Mouchot: Do you think this idea of yours could be used to power a mine? or a city?
- I could provide all the heat needed for industrial purposes. A mine wouldn't be too difficult, just a matter of scale and quality. A city? I... I can't see how it would be possible to store the energy for when it is needed most during the night.
- Really? My workers enjoy hot water during the night as well thanks to your machines.
- Oh, but it's an entirely different scale we're talking about. Keeping water hot for a night isn't difficult. But providing enough heat to keep a generator running the entire night? Temperatures are higher, which means that losses occur faster. You'd need a large enough mass to keep that heat, and dedicated collectors for these "heat reservoirs".
- But it isn't impossible.
- No, not at all.
- What about a town, then? let's say, a town of a thousand or so inhabitants. Could you provide them with electricity around the clock?
- That's a better starting point. It'd be easier to find some method to store work... maybe compressed air at a larger scale?
- Very well, then. Let's see if your ingenuity and my resources can make Almonte the first place where the sun doesn't set. - Said Isidora Goyenechea.

Of all the wars of the XIX century, perhaps the most curious one was the one fought between Chile and Germany. Neither country was aware it was fighting a war, but considering the amount of coincidences and parallel developments, the image of something akin to a conflict appears. Surprisingly, both "sides" were more or less evenly matched. The efforts of Hess - soon to be incorporated by the Leopoldina Scientific Society - were concentrated in extracting useful work from the sun, and thus his designs were more suitable as replacements for steam engines. Augustin Mouchot, was focused on the direct use of solar heat, allowing him more freedom to scale his models as he saw fit.
The first semester of 1886 proved a fortunate time for both men. Hess impressed the Leopoldina with its design, and was granted the resources needed to further develop solar concentrators in more suitable conditions. Mouchot, on the other hand, attracted the interest of coal magnate Isidora Goyenechea and secured enough funding to begin research on large scale projects.
The two men in this war had almost polar working conditions. Hess had easy access to quality manufacturing and technicians, but his research slowed down significantly during the cold months. Mouchot had sun in abundance, but lacked a proper industrial base or easy contact with experts in other fields. Mouchot's correspondence often refer to this problem, and his surviving devices of this era are notably cruder than those produced in Germany.
 
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Superb entry - I really like this 'war' between Germany and Chile that is more like a new Industrial Revolution!

Shame there is not a Brunel from the UK to come and see how these devices would benefit the Empire in its warm, hot places.
 
Part 10: Making Waves
Part 10: Making Waves

July, 1886

Santiago, Chile


Running uncontested, José Manuel Balmaceda's presidential victory was complete. He had the mandate to carry his program to completion. To modernize the country, educate its men, to lift their spirits. And, for the greed of one company, that task became so much more difficult. With the Royal Navy on Valparaíso and the Chilean Navy defanged, the country had lost one of the pillars of its' strength. British businessmen had acquired most of the saltpeter offices, and they could just talk to an Admiral to set tariff policy.
Without the ability to set tariffs, the nitrate wealth would be syphoned away. Maybe the country could wait for five years until the agreement with the British had ran its way, but Balmaceda wouldn't. He would have to reschedule, reorganize and redirect his government agenda.

And so, he and his future ministers sat on the dining room at his Hacienda. The meeting had extended well into the night, and the unprepared room was dimly lit.
- ... and I must insist. The nitrate wealth is a fraction of what lies on the conquered territories. Minerals of all types can be found and mined. It's known that there's copper in those areas. Gold and silver, too. - Eusebio Lillo, Interior Minister to be, said. Again.
- And where's the money for it? We will install those mines only for the next administration to reap its rewards! - Joaquin Godoy retorted.
- Isn't that the case with any effort we make? The schools we plan to build, the railways we plan to lay, they will all be for the benefit of those who will come afterwards. - President Elect Balmaceda answered. - Perhaps this limitation will force us to seek wealth elsewhere. The saltpeter offices currently import most of the materials needed to operate... if we could build them here, they could still be a source of growth for Chile.
- So, we're stumbling into our government without the resources needed to fulfill our agenda.
- Gentlemen. This isn't the end of it. As Eusebio said, the country is rich with resources ready to be exploited. The industry can be developed in time. Mayhaps it is Providence itself which set us on this course, denying us the easy treasure to develop a longlasting one. One day the nitrates will be exhausted, or rendered worthless by the advancements of industry, just as the sailship is making way to the steamer. On that day, perhaps centuries from now, perhaps in a few decades, I want the Chileans to look back at our government and see that the seeds of their wellbeing were planted by us. Resources are scarce, but enough to make a start.

Washington, District of Columbia

Grover Cleveland watched at his audience for a split second, one that felt like an eternity. He knew he was about to propose - to produce, in one way or another - a change in his foreign policy and perhaps set the course of the nation in perpetuity, but he had to act on the mater.

"To the Congress of the United States of America:

The United States has always sought peace and unity in the Americas. Under its guidance, we have prevented conflicts and done every effort to protect the independence from foreign intervention in the continent. When war has erupted between our sister nations, we have always acted as agents of peace, as our latests efforts in the War of the Ten Cents can prove. This is our responsibilty as a nation, but it is also shapes us into the nation we want to become. Do we want to stand as equals to the kings and emperors on the other side of the pond? Or do we want to be their lesser partners?

This question is what every member of Congress shall ask himself. It is not an exageration to say that the future of the United States of America is being decided in Valparaíso. There, the British Empire has overextended its legitimate grievance with the Chilian government, intruding into the internal affairs of other nation. It is true that Chili can act as a rival at times, where our interests clash with theirs'. But even if our relationship with that Republic - a Republic just like ours, which bows to no crown - was ten times more antagonistic, it would still be our duty to assist them against a foreign power's intromission. If the London declares that Chili doesn't deserve a Navy, who is to say that they won't interfere in Columbia? Or attempt to succeed where the French failed in Mexico? What guarantees does Her Majesty gives us that this will be limited to our Latin neighbours? What guarantees that they won't consider doing to us what they did to Chili?

The answer, esteemed members of Congress, is the strength of arms. Chili had a strong Navy - strong enough to challenge ours' - and still the British made it irrelevant. I now realize that I made a blunder. By voiding the contract of the Dolphin, I damaged our shipbuilding capabilities. Damaged our capacity to project power, to protect ourselves and the Americas. Today I ask you to help me revert that blunder. The United States Navy needs more than four ships. I propose that we double that number, that we provide four more ships that can guarantee the independence and peace on the continent."

He stopped to breathe, feeling he had lifted a weight of his shoulders. The proposal was there. The speech wasn't over, not by a long shot. But he said the important part, and in doing so determined the course of his administration.

Bletchley, England

Damian Cotrell barked orders, even though he didn't want to. It just came second hand to him after years in the Royal Navy. Still, it gave the urgency he needed to get things done quickly. He had two weeks of leave, and expected to use every single our of sunlight on it. To his knowledge, he had the only working section of the TSC's solar boiler. The array of linear parabolic mirrors had suffered under a weather its creators' never considered. But by the second day, most of the damage was undone and the machine was ready to operate under the skies of England, where the sun was much milder than Atacama.

It didn't work as well as under the brutal sun of the Atacama desert, but still generated enough heat to create steam in large quantities, and at high temperatures. A small antique locomotive, bought on the cheap for experimentation purposes, was connected to the contraption. The steam was enough to bring the machine back to life, uselessly spinning its suspended wheels. It wasn't enough to rouse the engine - the skies and the small section he could smuggle weren't enough to compete with coal - but it proved the concept.

- See Morgan? I told you this would work. I've seen it work. - He said, happy to win the small bet against his brother.
- Alright, little brother. You made your point. Maybe we won't see it in England, but I can see machines of these sort in the colonies. They will love these in Australia and parts of Africa. Also in India during the dry season. Leave the marketing and the business side of this to me. We might have something in our hands.

Just as the efforts of Mouchot in Atacama focused in the generation of solar heat and Hess' directed his efforts to the production of electric power, the development of British solar power obeyed a much more immediate imperative: to become economically viable and a profitable venture for the Cotrell brothers. Lacking the romantic drive of its contemporaries, it is generally agreed that they stole the Mouchot-Puig boiler and copied its design, allowing them to provide an effective way of concentrating and using solar energy. Whereas Mouchot and Hess experimented with their designs to eliminate their real or perceived flaws, the Cotrell Brothers focused on getting a viable commercial product as fast as possible. And by that measure, they were the most successful of the early solar pioneers.

The
Cotrell Solar Boiler, as it was renamed, was the first large scale solar energy generation method to see commercial use. A boiler rated for 20 HP was purchased by the owner of a small dye factory in Egypt, where it provided motive power and heat for the dye-making process. By the end of 1886, ten more boilers were ordered by clients across the British Empire.
 
With Solar hitting the commercial market the the first chapter of this is complete and it should be fun to see where the fallout goes.

Could Mouchot sue the Cotrell Brothers if their design does not vary that much from his?

I can see Chile using Solar powered steam to heat cities (like London did) and move cargo on the docks, as well as light lights etc. They need to invent better batteries.

US flexing it’s muscles could led to problems, hopefully Canada will expand its shipbuilding and facilities on both sides of the country too. The Caribbean islands could use more facilities too.
 
With Solar hitting the commercial market the the first chapter of this is complete and it should be fun to see where the fallout goes.

Could Mouchot sue the Cotrell Brothers if their design does not vary that much from his?

I can see Chile using Solar powered steam to heat cities (like London did) and move cargo on the docks, as well as light lights etc. They need to invent better batteries.

US flexing it’s muscles could led to problems, hopefully Canada will expand its shipbuilding and facilities on both sides of the country too. The Caribbean islands could use more facilities too.

They couldn't sue even if they wanted to, as the intellectual property was owned by the Tarapaca Saltpeter Company and was relinquished to the British Empire in the aftermath of the massacre. Besides, Mouchot and company have their hands full in Chile. The historical analysis is meant to have certain bias, as they had produced some commercial products (a solar concentrator for a bakery is mentioned) earlier than the British. Plus, the water heaters are becoming a common sight in Chile.
However, the bias is the result of one country being much less notable than the other, and the British having both the industrial means and access to the world's markets.

On the subject of energy storage, this won't be a problem tackled anytime soon, because solar energy recollection is still a primitive technology and the natural (and easier) course of research would be to focus on capturing more of the sun's energy and working within the limits imposed by nature.
However, if we take a look at our current methods of energy storage, some of them would be much more obvious to a 19th century mind than to a 21st century one. Flywheels, phase change heat collection and compressed air are all technologies in common use during the 1880s that are being revived as alternative to batteries. Even more exotic methods of energy storage might be viable with that level of technology (and I'll leave it at that).
That development will start by the 1890s at the earliest.

As for the United States, watching what was arguably the strongest navy of the hemisphere (which the Chilean Navy was for a brief time) just taken by the Royal Navy, and then not even having to dictate policy in that country is both a sign of alarm and a call to action. The Monroe Doctrine would become irrelevant if they don't act to preserve it.
 
I thought the story dies and wasn't getting any Alert notifications until I stumbled across it while perusing the forum. Nice to have it back.
 
I thought the story dies and wasn't getting any Alert notifications until I stumbled across it while perusing the forum. Nice to have it back.
I hit a period of insane workload, and I'm going through a bit of writer's block. But I'll keep updating this thread. Next week I should write about the first large-scale experiments in Chile and advancements in Germany, with a few hints of the development of the sunken greenhouse in Bolivia.

This story focuses on solar energy and thus it won't go cover other advances unless it is directly related to them (just as a book about the history of the automobile wouldn't put much emphasis on German politics), but I'd still like to feature how humanity could reach 1900s with more environmentally friendly technologies, and become unrecognizable from OTL in 2020.
 
Part 11: The Golden Hour
February, 1887

Almonte, Tarapacá

It was early in the morning when Alejandro Puig and a team of the factory workers arrived at the telegraph office. They could have arrived earlier, but without at least some sunlight, there wasn't much point to it. The telegraph operator, a scrawny fellow named Patricio, reported a problem with the collector array but didn't want to specify more. Alejandro thought his shyness was suspicious, as Patricio was quite eloquent in the bar. Almonte was finally getting a halfway decent bar, thanks to the 150 or so workers the Franco-Chilena was employing.
He quickly tossed those thoughts aside, as he started inspecting the solar array. The collector was one of the newer models that replaced the boiler with twin stirling engines, which simplified the design and improved efficiency. Puig spent a few hours a day troubleshooting the devices around Almonte, and so was used to find the arrays were misaligned, or the boilers weren't being used correctly, or a dozen or so small problems that could be solved in five minutes by people who knew what they were doing.

This wasn't one of those. The Stirling engine was cracked, for some unholy reason. Cracked like glass cracks, not dented like metal dents, which confused Puig and his entourage. He had seen ironclad ships cracked by battle damage, but that was usually accompanied by other kind of damage, scorched marks or twisted by the force of high explosives. Nothing like that could be found here, the brass casing was undamaged beyond the obvious damage.
And then, he noticed the probable cause of the mystery. The cambelt that distributed the power had been tampered after snapping, then sewed by an overzealous needle. Whomever did it was lousy or didn't know much of mechanics, because it resulted in one of the engines pushing the other instead of both cooperating. But how could that explain the cracking? Maybe some pressure buildup? Puig didn't know, and couldn't say for sure. He nevertheless inspected the device with a keen eye. Some details emerged, adding to the intrigue: a cracked bolt casing, with the pieces of the also cracked bolt on the dusty floor. The dust itself had a weird pattern, as if it had been carried by water, except that it wasn't caked. Using the limits of his imagination, it looked like it hadn't dried at all. Or perhaps, it was as if the liquid didn't wet the dust.

After verbally thrashing the telegraph operator and promising that he would pay for the damages (mostly to scare the man out of damaging more Isidora Goyenechea's property, as deterioration of equipment was already considered in the budget and was assumed some devices would fail or be broken), he asked him what he saw. Patricio swore that he left the machine running to power the telegraph line and returned to see it cracked and dripping boiling water.

He didn't push Patricio too hard, but those Stirling engines didn't have any water that could boil. They were filled with hydrogen which had to be replaced every month or so, and thus he was certain it wasn't water. Alejandro knew he was a smart man, his brain had carried him through a tough life and through a war, but he also knew that he wasn't smart enough to figure out what was going on here. He hired the local photographer to take pictures of the device and of the weird dust pattern on the ground. He would write a report for Mouchot, and present it to him as soon as he returned from Iquique, where he was meeting prospectors and engineers sent from Santiago.

Syracuse, Sicily

The Leopoldina suggested he should move to Italy to continue his research on Solar Concentrators. He proposed that they should move to Sicily, where the sun shone brightest. And Klara decided that they should settle in Syracuse. He thought she'd be opposed to move away from Germany, and was surprised when she literally jumped from excitement after learning his plans. She told him about the history of sicily, the recent discoveries on the island, and how much nice the weather was down there. She jumped at every opportunity to speak about the siege of Syracuse, the greek colonies and her theories about Troy being located in Sicily.

Things were going well for Klaus Hess. The equipment arrived without problems, he and Klara rented a nice house on the outskirts of the city, with a beautiful view to the countryside. The skies were blue and clear, the shadows casted by them were sharp. This was the place where he'd put his theories to work.

All in all, life felt good.

Cairo, Egypt

Ibrahim Sawiris was having a minor headache this morning. The second Cotrell Solar Boiler had just arrived to the city, and he would have to postpone the hiring process until it was installed on his factory. Every hour the boiler spent on the harbor was one hour where it wasn't working for him, an hour that costed money. Consequently, he personally oversaw its transportation to the factory. He had learned long ago that it paid to spend money wisely, and the device was being assembled on site by late noon that same day. By the next morning, they would be harvesting the sun and providing the heat needed to produce dyes.
Which brought him to his second concern that day: hiring workers to work the device. It needed around 12 people per boiler to keep it running at peak condition. Adjusting the mirror arrays every ten minutes was enough work, but the operators also had to regulate the steam input, regulate the output temperature of each array, and generally solve the myriad of problems that a new and untested technology brought.

Ibrahim never thought about women, not beyond the usual thoughts a man has. But he knew they would work for less, and raw strenght wasn't a requirement operating the solar arrays. To him, it was logical to employ them as operators. He was smart enough to understand that some men would be uncomfortable or protest their presence, so he made sure that they would work separately. Not that anyone would notice at a glance, as all that worked were covered head to toe on white robes, only interrupted by dark goggles.

Ibrahim didn't think about women. He was just interested in the bottom line, in the profit behind it.

Ibrahim was changing the world.
 
Solar-powered Sicily, and Egypt unintentionally kickstarting the mass entry of women into the industrial workforce decades ahead of schedule?

Praise the Sun. \[T]/
 
Do I small sabotage in Chile or is it my idea?
Praise the Sun. \[T]/
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