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

Chapter 1
  • October 1883
    Especially Low Tech Mag style green energy. Are there any good links you are using for Mouchot's device, or for the desalinization plant in Tarapaca or the possible Inca practices? I'm intrigued by all of this.

    The Inca part is completely fictional, and should be taken as an in-universe speculation about exploitation of solar energy before current times. ITL, people find solar production to be an obvious solution to energetic problems.

    The solar desalinizator is, in fact, real and was used before the War of the Pacific. Here's a photo of the system taken in 1908:

    captura-de-pantalla-2020-09-21-a-las-14.54.14-1402x1152.png


    As for Mouchot's designs, I'm using the design seen in the 1878 Universal Expo.
     
    Chapter 1
  • Part 1: Chasing smoke

    May, 1883
    La Rochelle, France


    Constantino Serrano limped away from the port. The voyage should have felt exhausting, but after his short experience in war, nothing really felt that tiring anymore. The War of the Pacific was ending, and Chile would soon enjoy the spoils of victory. Accompanying him was Alejandro Puig, the man who saved his life. He wasn't born on what Serrano would call a "Good Family", and he didn't care about them, but he was a more learned man than those who deluded themselves into believing they were part of an aristocracy back in the Americas. The same resourcefulness he displayed in the desert, he used in his everyday life. Which is why he was with him in France. Puig would ask, and would investigate, and would probably find Mouchot.

    Because Constantino wasn't able. Not just with a description and a vague understanding of the man's work. He was talented in talking to people, and getting from them what he wanted. Which is why he got this particular job in the first place: he convinced his employers that there was a way to get steam power without coal, for free. But finding people? that was beyond his abilities.

    So Puig led him to the library. "If he was invited to that Expo, there's a good chance that someone interviewed him." Puig and Serrano gathered old newspapers of the time, some scientific journals and magazines. They scanned every page for clues, ran across some similar names and close calls, and it took them five hours, but they had something by the end of the day: Augustin Mouchot, with a laboratory in Rennes, or it was there five years ago.

    The next evening they were asking for directions in that city's train station. Puig could speak and read French, but his inexperience with pronunciation was noticeable. The locals laughed more than once, which didn't happen to Serrano. Rennes didn't have a university, or an academy of sciences, so the next place to look was in the local board of education. There, they got a direction of a lab.

    Except that the "lab" was now a general goods store.

    "This is good. We know who his landlord was. We can ask him." Said Puig. That netted them an address. And with it, their man.

    Later that day

    Puig and Serrano awaited for Mouchot near his home. Not directly in front to raise an alarm, but close enough. He arrived late, and not in a good shape. Serrano knew a man in financial distress when he saw one, and suspected that the frenchman was overexerted after a day of hard work. Mouchot was gruff and tired, and not in the mood for humoring strangers.
    "Good evening... Monsieur Mouchot, is it?" - Said Serrano.
    "It's good night. And yes, I am. Who's asking?"
    "You might not remember me, but I saw your machine in the Paris Expo."
    "Oh. Ohh, yes. The Exposition Universelle. A century or so ago. I wish I had never made that cursed thing. It had no future."
    "Why is that? The solar collector worked just fine."
    "It worked, but then the rosbifs flooded France with coal. No need for my machine anymore... but why do you care?"
    "Because I have seen your machine in action. Also, I've seen that it works. My assistant here, he could tell you more."
    "And who'd you be, gentlemen?"
    "I'm Augustin Serrano, former Captain of the Chilean Army and now working for the Tarapacá Saltpeter Company. This is my assistant, Alejandro Puig."
    "You're a bit far from home, aren't you?"
    "Indeed. But we've seen the potential of your machine. Alejandro here, also harnessed the power of the sun." - he told the experiences boiling water without fire. - "We've made a demonstrator for our higher ups, but we're not experts."
    "And you have come here for my knowledge? Do you want to buy it?"
    "We want you to come back with us. TSC is ready to offer you a research position with a salary of £2,000... plus a budget of £10,000 for development of solar collectors."

    Mouchot looked at the two men, awestruck. He looked as if he was about to cry.

    "Do you have any idea of how difficult it has been? With this damned treaty rendering my invention worthless? I had to close my laboratory and sell my machines for scrap! The future of energy production, scrapped! So you better tell me the truth. Tell me this is a real offer, and not some scam"
    This would happen. The offer was too good to be believed, so they had to have proof. £100 in cash, and instructions for Mouchot to contact several banks in London to verify the accounts of the TSC.

    It took five days, but they received an answer from Mouchot: "This better is worth my time. I don't want to be disappointed again."

    Augustin Mouchot attained some fame as an inventor in his native France for his invention. But against the cheap and abundant coal provided by Britain, the Solar Collector just couldn't compete in its immature state. Even in the Atacama desert, coal would have been a more cost effective solution, if not for Chile's own naval ambitions that made fuel rather expensive despite local production of adequate quality.
    Crucially, Mouchot's collectors were easier and safer to operate and required less personnel than coal boilers. This advantage was important for an industry that saw frequent strikes and stoppages of workers demanding better working conditions. Important enough to demand innovation among the traditionally conservative and antiquated Chilean upper classes.
     
    Chapter 2
  • Part 2: Sowing the seeds

    July, 1883
    Tarapaca Saltpeter Company's Offices, Chile


    Augustin Mouchot wasn't comfortable in the desert. It wasn't the heat or the dryness, but the omnipresent sense of danger he had acquired in the erg of Algeria, where every dune could have a Magrebi rebel behind it.
    But the Atacama wasn't an Erg. There were no dunes here, just an sun blasted landscape where life barely scrapped by. No people lived in these parts before, not in the desert itself, although ge heard that the indians made good use of the valleys and the coast.

    But these wastelands? They might as well be another planet to Mouchot. The industrial operation that rose was a triumph of modernity, and it justly belonged to the men that made it possible. The workers went through their day, too tired to notice or oblivious to the foreigner escorted by two veterans with old wounds. He and the two Chileans walked towards the invention they developed on their own.

    It surprised Mouchot. It wasn't a complex device by any means, but the design devised by Puig was more elegant than he thought such an un polished (but, in Mouchot's opinion, very sharp) intellect could formulate. A parabolic profile, five meters across and one wide. With a pipe painted black on the focal point. It had an operator that regularly adjusted its position to follow the sun.

    "You took advantage of a parabola. I had plans to incorporate such a feature in my future collectors." Said Mouchot, complimenting the Chilean.
    "A what now?" Answered Puig, puzzled by the word. "You mean like Our lord Jesus Christ?"
    "Uh, no. I meant that you used a mathematical principle to focus every incoming ray in a single point."
    "I don't know much about that. I just pointed a mirror towards the same spot and this pattern appeared. Then I painted it black because that way it'd heat up faster."
    "Good catch on the black coat. I hadn't thought about it... By my estimations, your design should boil about a liter of water per second with the current conditions. But not enough to do any meaningful work. It's "cold" steam, if the concept makes sense to you."
    "Yeah, that's the idea. It reaches as steam to the main boiler. There's where the steam reaches its' temperature and pressure. I don't know the correct term, but it helps the boiler to operate faster, use less coal to reach the same temperatures."
    "You basically made the boiler skip the step of adding the heat of fusion. That is indeed clever... and you say you never studied?"
    "Not after my father died when I was eleven. I had to support my family after that, but by that time I already spoke French and could do some fancy math."
    "It's a shame you couldn't advance your education. What you did here, by trial and error, is a remarkable device... I can see some faults, like making the parabola too "high" where a shallower design would serve just as well, but those are some minor considerations, all in all."
    "Well..." Puig stopped, unaccostumed to receive praise from what he thought were his superiors. "Thank you, sir."
    "Now, Monsieur Serrano told me that this boiler was used in the drying of saltpeter concentrate, right?"
    "That's correct, sir."
    "I believe that we can adapt your linear design to bring the steam to full pressure, doing away with the boiler entirely. Maybe even exceed the performance of the coal powered one, if we take advantage of this savage sun. That'll be a good place to start, and after that we could focus on motive power for the machines."

    August, 1883

    Constantino was in an unknown territory. He knew humanity was progressing at staggering rates. He had seen the evolution from muskets to bolt action rifles, the growth of the rail network and the instantaneous spread of word through cables. But those things occured far away. They were foreign, not something that happened in these lands. Not something that interested the men present at this ceremony.

    But this time, he was at the center stage of progress. He didn't contribute with the theory, like Augustin, or by being the link between theory and the workers, like Alejandro. But he knew the numbers, he could convey them to his superiors and in turn get what he needed from them. And now, he'd give what they wanted from him: A coal-less boiler. A cheaper alternative to the boilers brought from England. And safer to boot, which meant less liabilities and less costs.
    Alejandro was directing the operators in their white suits with dark glasses, giving them an inhuman appearance. Mouchot was warning the young ladies to not use the mirrors to correct their makeup, the sun was too intense to be safe. And Constantino was guiding the board of directors through the device, mentioning every part of it and its function. They were curious, but a curiosity mixed with skepticism. He then directed all of them to their seats.

    Mouchot stood on a podium, surrounded by mirrors. He began to speak in French.

    "Ladies and Gentlemen. What we have here is proof that we can dispense with coal and instead use a source far more powerful, cheap and clean than it. A source of heat that can reach higher temperatures, faster, and safely. Without the fire of other sources, no smoke needs to be pumped out, and no soot is accumulated. There's little risk for the operators to lose limb or life, and in case of exceeding the safety parameters, all that is needed to quell the danger is adequate shade.
    I am a man of numbers, not of words and so I won't give you a long speech. But, thanks to the work of my colleague Alejandro Puig, which came up with the germ from which this design grew, I can give you a glimpse of the future. A future with enough energy for all our needs. A future as bright as the sun.

    Monsieur Director, you can start operations of this machine when you are ready."

    The industrial processing of saltpeter provided with an excellent first environment for the development of Solar Collectors. Drying the acid-based solution of the nitrate was done mostly by exposing it to the air, and on a smaller scale with coal-powered boilers.
    The first Solar Collector to be used on an industrial scale, christened the Mouchot-Puig Boiler, was able to heat steam to a temperature of 1000 °C, and did so during its initial demonstration. Reportedly, the occasion almost ended in embarrassment as the steel pipes expanded beyond expectations, but this was ignored for the spectacle of watching it turning from metallic to brown to red to a bright orange-yellow as the steam inside reached enormous temperatures, as if by magic.

    Within two months, the Mouchot-Puig Boiler was reducing the time of drying - an important bottleneck in nitrate production - by 75%, at virtually no cost for the TSC. This, in turn, gave Mouchot and his team plenty of work for the immediate future, retarding his plans for more elaborate designs. On the long run, however, it also gave them the prestige and leeway to pursue those same designs.
     
    Chapter 3
  • Part 3: Flowers of Steel

    March, 1884
    Mouchot's residence.
    Almonte, Tarapaca


    Alejandro Puig's manners could have been better. Should he choose to, he could follow them to a point that would earn him praise from the executive from the TSC sitting at Mouchot's table. The frenchmen was an excellent cook, and Alejandro grew a fondness for the beef stewed in wine he made. Both Mouchot and Serrano displayed their refined manners in front of the higher up, an airhead with a vasque family name which Alejandro refused to learn.

    It was his way to show him his contempt. Or, more accurately, to reciprocate it. The exec tried to kill his budget of operations, citing that the men could work without the protective equipment he and Serrano had designed for them. "And, I believe it is cheaper to just hire new men when these rotos get too tired than to provide them with fancy dresses", he told him once, as if it was the most logical thing in the world. Maybe he hadn't seen the damage it did to the skin of those first workers, how a few minutes of exposition turned the skins red, which then blistered and flaked off. Serrano saw it as a necessary piece of equipment, but to Puig it was a matter of dignity. Of treating men, men even more unlucky than himself, with respect.

    And so, he ate in a gruff and brusque manner. If that bothered the little man, too bad. Puig was even more bothered by the way he treated others. Even Augustin Mouchot, by far the most educated man on the room, and the host of the place, was treated with some contempt. He wanted to talk about future uses of his solar collectors, to demonstrate the enhanced parabolic design that was powering a Stirling engine on his backyard - which was quite literally built by Mouchot, Serrano and Puig out of their own effort and funds -, of the possibilities for motorization with solar energy, and even a few ideas to extend the use of solar heat well into the night.
    But the representative of the TSC had his focus on expanding the solar drier. They had struck gold with it, allowing the company to produce more nitrates at a lower cost and faster than the competition. Hence, more Mouchot-Puig Boilers on other company instalations. Nothing else interested him or the TSC, and he made it clear to the three men in charge of the "Research Operations".

    Fortunately for them, he only stayed for a short time.

    "And you say this man represents the Chilean higher class? I thought that Monsieur Serrano was already a member of it."
    "My family is well to do, and has some influence and land to their name, but I am by no means on the same league as Arostegui. They have haciendas in the south, mines in the north, and a few dozen senators in their pockets." - Serrano clarified.
    "This is nothing like what we have in France. If I could show one of my countrymen what we have managed to do the three of us, they'd be offering us a fortune to keep on researching."
    "Yeah, well, welcome to Chile. You showed them something that would make them money, and they want more of it." - Puig said.
    "I am worried because this project they have devised, it'll keep us occupied for the next five years building nothing but boilers. When will we do our research?"
    "Maybe on Sundays. Maybe." - Said Serrano.
    "And resigning? We could go independent and lease the design to other companies." - Puig suggested.
    "The TSC holds the patent for the Boiler. They won't share it."

    October, 1884
    Almonte, Tarapaca


    Augustin looked at the parabolic mirror, seven meters in diameter. They could have finished it in three weeks, but with the incessant need for work at the TSC, it turned into a struggle of seven months. Alas, the design was completed, at last. Mouchot's biggest collector yet, built in his backyard on a god forsaken desert. It took the light of the sun, and concentrated as much as they could with the materials they had available. Forty square meters were concentrated in less than a sixteenth of one. Some of it was lost, of course, but nothing could resist that heat for long. It melted rocks in seconds, it made wood burst into flame, and it made water explode into steam.

    Mouchot looked at the concentrated beam through his darkened glasses. He stared in silence for a few seconds, and laughed. He did it. He reached a temperature that coal would never reach, and he did it on his own. This moment, on this forgotten part of the world, surrounded by two veterans of a war he knew nothing about, it was the culmination of his life's entire work. And he couldn't help but laugh. They directed the beam onto a brick, which glowed red hot before exploding, and then to a sizeable rock that melted into very fluid lava. He knew he was acting like a child with a magnifying glass, and he didn't care. For an hour, the power of the sun was his to command in frivolous ways. He had earned it.

    But excitement eventually faded, and he returned to his senses. And with it, the real test of the solar collector: powering a machine. Mouchot and Serrano had spent a significant amount buying and importing a Stirling engine from England. An old one, built for industrial purposes. Then they had paid a lot of money to make it work, and to replace parts with more modern materials than ones in the old machine. The focusing mirror was readjusted so as to provide the power onto a wider area, and then aimed at one of the tanks of the Stirling engine.

    Nothing happened. Not until Mouchot realized that the engine needed to be running to start the cycle, so he gave the flywheel a gentle push.

    It accelerated fast. In less than ten seconds it became a blur in their eyes. So fast that the noises of the cycle turned into a uniform hum, which grew in pitch until they realized the machine was never meant to operate under those conditions. The parts didn't melt, that much they had predicted well. But they didn't count on the stress on the flywheel and the pistons. The flywheel began to wobble, a little bit at first, then a lot. Then it disintegrated into a mess of bolts and machinery and a wheel that had acquired a will of its own and decided to roll at full speed embedding itself into one of his neighbors trees. One of only ten trees in all Almonte.

    The Tarapaca Saltpeter Company lost interest in Mouchot's ideas as the Mouchot-Puig Boiler allowed for a increase in profits and accelerated the processing of nitrates. This wasn't unsurprising in Chile, as innovation and technological progress was always thought as a foreign domain, with little appreciation for domestic research and development. In this sense, the creation of the MP Boiler was both abnormal and typical. Abnormal in the sense that it was indeed an innovative design, but typical in that it was only possible due to the immediate benefit it provided to the upper classes that controlled the means of production. The next couple of years would see the widespread adoption of this device among the offices of the TSC, increasing the demand for labor, which resulted in a modest increase in wages among workers coupled with longer hours and higher quotas.
    Although Mouchot and his team were overworked in their own way, they still managed to advance their research into solar collectors. The first of a new generation of collectors was erected and tested outside Mouchot's residence, and it immediately demonstrated great potential as a source for industrial heat. Motive power was also tested, but the steam powered machines suffered from losses that, although no different than those of coal burning boilers, were deemed ineffcient by Mouchot, who preferred Stirling engines. These machines, capable of converting a temperature differential directly into motive power instead of relying on pressure, had gone into disuse in industrial applications because they couldn't compete with coal boilers. Although he had a substantial salary that allowed him to run experiments independently from the TSC, the resources needed to design a modern Stirling engine were outside Mouchot's reach. Thus, research shifted towards industrial heat for the next couple of years.
     
    Part 6
  • Part 6: From East to West

    August, 1885
    München, Imperial Germany


    If Klaus Hess thought that the frenchman was crazy for choosing to live on that sunblasted desert, but he couldn't argue with his results. The Mouchot-Puig boiler provided enough heat to satisfy a large industrial installation without burning a single lump of coal, which was remarkable on itself. But, more important than that, the Frenchman was generating temperatures in excess of those produced by anthracite. It was only a matter of time until he could scale the volume of generated heat, at which point...
    ... at which point, Hess wasn't quite sure what would happen. Maybe nothing, not in places like the Ruhr or Great Britain where coal was abundant and sunlight was scarce, but on sunnier locations, like Namibia or Algeria? It'd be revolutionary.

    Since arriving to Germany, he took action to locate one of Mouchot's early collectors which was captured by the Prussians during the war. Examining it, he saw it was a primitive design compared to the more refined parabolic mirror Mouchot and his Chilean associates had built in the desert, but was better built, produced by experts craftsmen and not whatever local talent they could muster in that forgotten corner of the Earth. Hess spent a week studying the device, taking measurements and making calculations.
    By the time he was done with them, he regretted that it was late august, and he'd have to wait a year for his design to be tested.

    London, England

    Morgan Cotrell always read the letters of his younger brother with delight. They were rife with adventure and exploration, and he was a bit envious for the freedom of responsibilities he inherited from his father. Where his borther had mechanical inclinations, Morgan had a business sense and a strategic mindset that served him well. And when started reading of this "fire-less" boiler in the Atacama desert, he threw a chuckle at his brother. He went on, endlessly, on the technical aspects that it's inventors had provided, and how it could be of immense value on places like Egypt and India. He even included a blueprint of one of Mouchot's earlier designs, which the french engineer had provided after reaching some sort of deal with Damian. He didn't have much faith on the design, and believed that the idea of powering anything with the sun when coal was easily within reach was silly, but he also knew to trust the technical knowledge of his brother.

    And if it resulted in something, perhaps it could be a new business opportunity?

    Santiago, Chile

    The mood in the Presidential Office in La Moneda was grim. Pakenham looked at President Santa Maria with a bit of empathy, as much as his duty to the British Empire allowed. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Colonization was distraught, reading the document once more in disbelief. Admiral Baird wasn't too keen on the prospect, either, but he also had a duty to uphold.
    - These terms are... harsh. - Zañartu said.
    - Your forces spilled British blood, Mr Zañartu. These are the best terms you will get from London. - Pakenham replied.
    - You'll effectively leave us without a Navy for a decade. - said Santa Maria, with a defeated tone in his voice.
    - That's not quite true, your Excellency. The naval terms ban the purchase of new naval assets for ten years. You'll still have enough forces to defend yourselves... and we will a have a force to ensure that neither Peru or Argentina attempt anything while the treaty is in effect.
    - And what happens if London changes its policy?
    - Well, your Excellency, you should have thought about that before firing upon our citizens and staining British honour. - Baird said, having little patience for the Chilean's victim act. - And humbling your country could be done with paper and ink, which takes time but is cheaper, or with gunpowder and lead, which is quicker and more expensive.
    - You know that we could put up a fight, right?
    - Perhaps, but we both know the result of that fight, and thus we know you won't. These are the best terms the Republic of Chile will ever get.
    - Besides that, we will demand the forfeiture of assets of the Tarapacá Saltpeter Company, and guarantees by the Chilean government that individuals in managerial positions can be easily reachable, and upon request, handed over to British authorities for judgement... I hope this point proves less contentious than the previous one. - Ambassador Pakenham said, hoping to defuse the situation created by his... "inexperienced" colleague. - The assets of the TSC are to be liquidated after British authorities have seized any asset it so wishes, individuals employed by the TSC or their known associates will be banned from purchasing them. 15% of the funds gathered will be directly provided by the Chilean government to the families of those killed, which will also be obliged to cover the funeral costs and any financial distress caused by their deaths. The Chilean government will also offer personal apologies to each of the victims' families.

    Almonte, Tarapaca

    Cosntantino Serrano could see why Mouchot was unhappy with the discussion they just had, specially after Puig came in favour of the idea. It went against the direction Augustin wanted to go, and he felt it was a bit of a betrayal, but he understood that it made business sense. And, realistically, they didn't have the resources to go in that direction unless they improved their income. Constantino wasn't happy with this discussion, as he considered Augustin a friend and had picked his vision for a future powered by the sun.
    But those dreams meant nothing if they couldn't fund them. So they needed a product that could be sold in large quantities.
    - Bueno. - Said Mouchot, not even realizing he spoke spanish. - But on one condition: We'll also develop a variant for use in sanitation and pasteurization. I am not a mere plumber, and I didn't come to the end of the world to work on a water heater.
    - What's so bad about being a plumber? - asked Puig.
    - Oh, nothing. I didn't want to imply that there's anything bad about it. It's just that... I've had bad experiences in the past with people thinking my ideas don't have any future.
    - And we're not saying that. - Serrano said. - We believe in our work, but right now we need to build something that will allow us to expand.
    - And you think this is it?
    - Yes, that's why we're having this conversation! It might not be the most romantic use, but if we can provide an affordable water heater, every homeowner will want to install one. You must acknowledge that, at the very least.
    - What about my request? If we're going to heat water, we might as well provide something valuable.
    - I... think that's completely reasonable. It's just an expansion of the idea, anyways. Might land us some good contracts, too. - Puig said.
    - Very well, let's get to work, then.

    It remains a point of contention among historians if the Tarapacá Crisis furthered or stunted the development of solar energy production. Although Mouchot and company made some progress and profit free from the demands of the TSC, it would take some time to return to the industrial levels of heat generation required by saltpeter processing, and they were forced to look onto other markets to remain a profitable operation. Mouchot's research required a solid stream of funding, and without the good salaries provided by the TSC, that research became markedly slower.
    However, the Tarapacá Saltpeter Company had no intention to provide funds to research further applications of solar energy, and it is suspected that Mouchot would have too many obligations with it to do much progress in his studies and experiments.

    What is not in dispute is that the crisis of 1885 provided a hundred times more exposure for his solar collectors than the Universal Exposition of 1878. It was this exposure that inspired further experimentation in the German Empire, and attracted curious British investors to develop their own "fire-less boilers". The Mouchot-Puig boiler was proof that solar energy could be harnessed for industrial purposes, and people in the center of the world were starting to realize that.
     
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    Part 7
  • Part 7: Irradiance

    January, 1886
    Almonte, Tarapacá.

    It was after sunset, and when his machines stopped, so did Augustin. Things were, on the aggregate, going very well thanks to Serrano's business sense. The domestic heater went from prototype to validated design to commercially viable within two months, and they were selling about one hundred per month. The design was a simplification and miniaturization of the Mouchot-Puig boiler, encased within a mirrored double glass case to reduce loses due to irradiance and conduction. So long as the pipes could supply it with liquid water and there was at least some sunshine, the device would produce hot water even in extremely cold temperatures... or so did Puig said after testing it on the mountains. And, so long as people took care and stored it within their houses, that water could last until the next time it needed to be produced.


    Mouchot wasn't entirely satisfied with his work. He came to work on the industry, and working at the domestic scale didn't satisfy him. But the money, at last, was starting to trickle in. Each month they sold a hundred or so water heaters, and the Franco-Chilean Solar Power Company (a name picked by Serrano, who thought it would sound better than the plain 'Solar Energy Company' he proposed) was employing fifty workers. In the middle of the desert.
    Word was spreading far, as far as La Paz, at least. He had established correspondence with one of his clients, an Bolivian engineer by the name of Abelino López-Tikuña, who was concerned with the loss of access to the sea and international markets. Apparently, the man had a son whose health was greatly dependent on consumption of citrus fruit, for which he had built a greenhouse.
    López-Tikuña had thought of a half-buried greenhouse, which would reduce the heat loss of the it and stabilize temperatures. He learned about Mouchot's experience with solar energy, and contacted him to see if the device could be improved.

    Well, it could: first, they should align the long axis from east ho west. Secondly, they should tilt the roof to maximize solar absorption. And third, the structure that supported that tilted glass should be made of an insulating material, like bricks.
    He hoped that his Bolivian colleague would find those suggestions useful, and asked him to write about the results.

    All in all, things were going well for Augustin, if a little bit tedious at times. He still wasn't able to complete his dream of large scale solar power, but he could see himself doing it.

    München, Imperial Germany

    Klaus woke up early. He paid a knocker-up for it, because time was scarce and he couldn't afford to waste his time sleeping during winter. Most of the days, he thought he wasted that money as he went right back to sleep. His wife complained him about it, but in his research, every hour counted.

    And today, all that 'wasted' money was finally giving the big return he needed. He woke up and saw Venus in the sky. The sky was clear, without a single cloud in the horizon.
    Today it'd be colder than usual. The early morning was specially cruel, and he arrived at his laboratory with forst forming on his eyebrows. Maybe two hours before sunrise, enough to check the Stirling engine for work, do some calibration on the rig, and clean the (cracked) 1.5 M mirror he had acquired. It was a shame that such a magnificent tool of science became useless for its purpose, but Klaus wasn't interested in precision, only that it could concentrate sunlight into a single point. It was ironic, or so Klaus thought, that the Stirling engine once belonged to a church, used to power an organ.

    Klaus couldn't help but admire Mouchot. The frenchman was abrassive and rude and probablt crazy to set up shop in that godforsaken desert, but he had stumbled upon something big. The captured solar concentrator was flawed. It was too inefficient. It relied on steam and wasted too much material. Improving it was easy. Klaus knew it, and he didn't doubt that Mouchot did as well.

    And that it did quite well still. Using two cranks, he aimed the mirror towards the morning brilliance, and waited for the sun to rise. The sunrays fist touched the ceiling of this laboratory, then they descended down the wall and only the started to touch the parabolic mirror. The hot part of the stirling engine began to glow with the reflected light, until it shone like a second sun, smaller and much dimmer. Only a small tap on the flywheel, and the engine woke up. It would stay awake the whole day.

    Early 1886 was a time of gradual expansion and consolidation of Mouchot's work. Certainly, it was during this period that his first profitable venture became widespread, with the 'Domestic Boiler' (soon shortened to the 'Domestica') seeing an enormous demand all around Chile. In a time when few homes could afford a wood or coal boiler, and boiling water over a fire was dangerous, the Domestica became an essential part of any well-to-do household. Although today we can see its shortcomings (most notably, the significant loss in efficiency during cloudy days) during this period it became the best alternative for water heating, and in some cases the only affordable one. Even La Moneda, the Chilean Presidential palace, would later install one, to the infinite joy of Augustin Mouchot.

    On a curious note, epistolar evidence has recently surfaced that reveals a rich interaction between Mouchot and López-Tikuña, the inventor of the Walipini Greenhouse which would later revolutionize fruit production throughout the northern hemisphere.

    Also during this time, Dr Klaus Hess perfected earlier works by Mouchot. Interestingly, Hess experience was the polar opposite of his French pair, having secured an adequate grant by the Leopoldina to research solar energy concentrators, but severely lacking sunlight for a good part of the year. Even with this severe limitation, the work or Dr. Hess would provide one of the definitive designs of solar concentrators, one which hasn't changed much in almost 140 years.
     
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    Part 8
  • Part 8: Gathering steam

    Iquique, Tarapacá
    March 1886


    Alejandro Puig enjoyed his time in the city. He could visit a proper bar and drink a proper beer, instead of the Pisco that was all the people in Almonte seemed to drink, although Mouchot provided the town with a few bottles of wine made with the same grapes used for the spirit. The frenchman was serious about his wine, and his small production was rather good, which confused Puig to no end. It didn't bothered him, though, and he had grown fond of Mouchot's cooking.
    After he finished his beer, he went to the Postal Office to see if he or the Franco-Chilena had received any mail. He took his time, buying some fruit to bring back to Almonte, chatting with the locals about the news - the great topic was the "marine occupation" by the British Navy on Valparaíso and San Antonio, which was enough to keep the Chilean Navy in check - and reading the newspapers. He noticed that El Mercurio de Valparaíso was smaller, which put a smile on Alejandro's face. A sign of the times, and a consequence of the Conservatives' reckless brutality.
    He waited in line a few minutes, exchanged words with the clerk, and then received the usual bundle: some orders for the domestic boilers, correspondence in french for Mouchot, and a few letters for him and Constantino. And then, not one but two letters that he couldn't quite parse due to their importance.
    The first was signed by Isidora Goyenechea and with the seal of the Lota-Cousiño Coal Company. The second was a letter by Ramon Barros Lucos, the director of the Society for the Promotion of Industry, this one with a wax seal. Puig looked at the two pieces of paper, awestruck... he knew he had other errands to run in Iquique, but for his life he couldn't remember them. He hurried outside the post office, and hired the first stagecoach he saw. He paid extra to get to Almonte fast.

    It took four hours. For eteran hours to get to the town, and when he got there, he spared no time with formalities. He called Constantino, who was overseeing the workers and the production. He then startled Mouchot, who was lost in his designs and formulas. Once the three were gathered, he produced the two letters.
    "Ladies first" Puig said before opening the envelope from Lota. Puig was a crude man, but he could tell that this letter came from Isidora Goyenechea's own hand. The manager of that coal operation, the richest person in Chile, and probably one of the richest in the world. He started reading aloud, but it was in French and he didn't want to butcher the language in front of Mouchot, so he gave it to him. Which proved to be a mistake, as the man fainted after a few sentences. Serrano continued once he had regained consciousness. The lady had requested five hundred domestic heaters and fifty sanitizers. She also wanted to schedule a visit the Franco-Chilena, stressing her interest in the technology and possibilities of solar energy for industrial purposes.
    After reading it, there was silence for a few minutes. Nobody knew just what to do, nobody knew even what to say after receiving the news. Alejandro only knew to serve three cups of wine. Not to celebrate, they were all too stunned for that. But the next letter would be just as heavy hitting, and being a little drunk would help in taking it better.
    And the hit came, just as predicted. Ramón Barros Luco opened by noticing that Mouchot's devices were becoming all the rage in Santiago, with one even installed in La Moneda, which had then prompted the interest on some industrialists onto the "fuel-less boiler" that powered the TSC, but the device had been dismantled and thus nobody could test it. Nevertheless, they had reason to believe that it worked as intended, because the accounting of the TSC made sense. It only made sense if they were using some sort of fuel-less power device. Barros Luco went on about having read Mouchot's work, La Chaleur Solaire et Ses Applications Industrielles, and inquired about the factibility of using solar concentrators for mining operations. "If Solar Concentrators can acheive and sustain temperatures useful for copper smelting applications, and do so at a lower cost than traditional methods, then we could revitalize the copper industry which is now languishing due to the low prices on international markets".

    The three men looked at each other. This was it. This was what the breakthrough they were looking for. Puig and Serrano raised their glasses to toast, but Mouchot didn't. He was crying. A lifetime of work, almost forty years of effort, and it was just starting to pay at last.

    Bletchley, England

    Both Morgan and Damian Cotrell agreed on something: it was a miserable day, even in England. Damian, with his experience at sea, could take it better than Morgan but neither liked it. They wouldn't be running errands if it wasn't of the utmost importance, and receiving an entire section of the Tarapacá Boiler required their oversight. It required the work of forty men, unloading four train wagons and then loading them to ones pulled by oxen, and then the day-long trip to the Cotrell Estate. Miserable work, for a miserable day. The men, however, worked fast and efficiently, motivated by a good pay financed by Morgan.
    He felt he was indulging his brother, and for his life he couldn't see how this array of mirrors could compete with coal. But Damian saw something, and he knew his machines well enough to have authority in the matter. And so they pressed onwards.

    Damian was pressed for time. He only had one week of leave left, and wanted to set up the boiler before embarking again. He spent the following days directing the reconstruction of the boiler, then coating it on grease to slow down the rust it would inevitably form in the wet english weather. Damian often imagined the machines he served as living being, it helped to understand them if he could say they were happy, or angry, or in pain. And this boiler, this machine made in the desert, he could tell it felt unwelcomed in this weather. Someday, he hoped, he could find it a better home, maybe in Egypt or Australia. But right now, he needed it to be in the center of the world. He needed the contacts and the learned minds and the opportunists and others to see the potential of his machine. He regretted not getting the chance to see the machine in action, but he trusted that his brother would follow his detailed instructions and making the machine fully operational during summer.

    With the widespread adoption of the domestic water heater system developed by Franco-Chilean Solar Power Company, came notoriety to its' inventor which had evaded him during his early years in Chile (something exacerbated by the TSC' hermetic nature). Although somewhat detached from the daily operations of the Franco-Chilena, the profitability of the design allowed Augustin Mouchot greater freedom to experiment with designs. During this period, Mouchot mostly tackled the problem of tracking and focusing the moving rays of the sun. The early solar concentrator could melt a fist-sized rock into lava within two minutes after some improvements like the addition of a fresnel lens focus, but keeping the parabolic mirror at the optimal angle proved a challenge in an era before the most basic automation.

    More important than the research done by Mouchot during this period was the aforementioned notoriety, which reached the upper echelons of Chilean society. Specifically, it gained the interest of Isidora Goyenechea, the manager of the Lota coal mines and the most important captain of industry in the country. Ms. Goyenechea had noticed the work of Mouchot much earlier than other Chileans, as the success of the Mouchot-Puig boiler greatly reduced the sales of coal to the TSC. No other mention to solar energy or its inventors are done on her epistolary records until a visit to Santiago. It is believed that during this visit she witnessed a solar water heater in action, which renewed her interest in solar energy.
    A benevolent woman who overlooked the wellbeing of her employees, she quickly realized that these water heaters could improve the quality of the housing she provided for the miners (which was already high by standards of the day) at a comparatively low investment, without wasting valuable coal.
    It is believed that altruism wasn't her only motivation, as several of these heaters were modified to track the amount of water used, and she appointed a manager to keep records on its usage and estimate the amount of "coal" they generated. She also motivated the Society for Promotion of Production (or SOFOFA as it was known in Spanish) to reach out to Mouchot and inquire about the possibilities of his designs.

    In stark contrast to later energy barons like John D. Rockefeller, Isidora Goyenechea saw solar energy not as competition, but as a potential new business venture, and one that could make other businesses more efficient and thus more profitable. Her impact on the early development of solar energy will be further explored on the next chapters, but for now it suffices to say that there's a reason why Goyenechea is the third most frequent odonym in Chile, after O'higgins and Prat.
     
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    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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    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.
     
    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.
     
    Part 12: Cold Fusion
  • April 1887

    Santiago, Chile

    Although the wait was short, it felt like an eternity. Antonio Eguiguren thought that many who sat before the office of the President felt that time was relative, with the possible exception of diplomats from European powers. They must have thought their wait was too long for them.

    Antonio Eguiguren did a conscious effort to avoid those thoughts. He was about to talk with President Balmaceda, and his finding could very well make or break the President's efforts to create an indutry in the new conquered territories. He made a mental checklist of the topics he would expose to the President as the Chief Prospector. Possible ore locations, the quality of the vein, expected reserves and needed infrastructure. And, almost as an afterthought, the developments of a crazy frenchman who was melting rocks with nothing but mirrors and the unyielding Atacama sun. Nevertheless, that Mouchot fellow had convinced Isidora Goyenechea herself about the viability of his project, and that woman wasn't known for her naivite or idealism.

    It was only a matter of minutes before he met President Balmaceda. Antonio went to the bathroom to groom himself one last time, using the privacy to do one last mental checklist. As he was washing his hands, he quickly took them away from the sink. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, just an unfamiliar one. Warm water, coming straight from the sink. With caution, he felt the stream of water and felt a pleasant warmth that was unfamiliar to him. He took warm baths from time to time, but to see warm water straight from the tap felt weird.

    After taking more than what was needed to wash his hands, he went to the President's office. Formalities were exchanged. His nervousness never faded, but coalesced into a cold state that allowed Antonio to speak and function as a normal human being. He produced some samples, maps and graphs. By all means, the Atacama region had a wealth that far surpassed the nitrate deposits that fell prey of greedy Capitalists. To his surprise, he found that the President took him seriously. He asked both about immediate benefits and long-term prospects, he briefly interrupted to discuss policy with his ministers, who were blurred in Antonio's mind. Big, fat men discussing Big Men stuff.

    The matter went from the strategic, to the political, to the serious, to the frivolous. One of the ministers took one of the samples, a molten rock that became smooth black.

    - Obsidian? - He asked. - Or perhaps Onyx?

    - Neither. That vitrified copper ore. - Antonio responded. The color is due to a mix of oxidation while on a molten state, just before the copper could be separated from the scum.

    - And how was it melted?

    - It was a demonstration set by Augustin Mouchot. He's set up a rather large operation that provides solar-powered heaters to an entire town, and believes that his solar collectors can replace coal as a source of energy. By what I saw in Almonte, he's on the right track.

    - Ah. Mouchot. We have installed one of his solar water heaters in this building. It's been a lifechanger. Madame Goyenechea firmly believes in his vision. - Jose Manuel Balmaceda said.

    - Your Excelency, it is more than a vision. It is a reality I have witnessed. The Franco-Chilena factory works without burning a single lump of coal. Everywhere where heat is needed, he can extract it directly from the sun. I was invited to their factory, and saw how they could direct concentrated solar energy to heat pipes and bend them. They do it all with mirrors, but I've been assured by Agustin Mouchot that the potential is far from being tapped. I don't know if there's any other factory quite like that in the whole country, not in the ironworks of the railroads or the gunworks of our Army. And they do it all without burning a single lump of coal. - He repeated himself, unknowingly.

    - Interesting. So you visited the frenchman on your journey? What did he told you?

    - Relevant to my work up north? He told me that he could design a collector that could provide enough heat for all our copper smelting and processing needs. He provided some rough calculations based on known physical properties, and insisted that his design could be easier and cheaper to operate than the current systems - mostly based on coal and some electrical devices which are beyond my comprehension. That glassed rock there? That copper ore was melted by concentrated solar power. On a large enough scale, I believe that his devices would grant us all the heat needed for the refining process. And more beyond that.

    - Very well, then. I think you've made a compelling case for contacting this Mouchot fellow and see if he can cooperate on this venture. Is there any other thing we need to know?

    Antonio resumed talking about ore purity and probable locations.

    Almonte, Tarapacá

    Constantino Serrano looked as Mouchot fiddled with the contraption he had made. It wasn't pretty by any means, a mess of wires and ropes and two Stirling engines connected together haphazardly, but the limping veteran trusted his colleague's intuition on this matters. It wasn't purely intuition, of course, but Serrano interpreted it that way.
    - Now, if everything goes all right, one of the Stirling engines will donate work to the other and force it to work in reverse in an adiabatic process. - Mouchot explained to him and Puig, who was even more confused by the words coming out of Mouchot's mouth.
    - Yes... of course. - Serrano responded, unsure what else to say. - Which means that it will start to get hot on one end, doesn't it?
    - Indeed. That's why I instructed the workers to solder those folds around it. I don't want to lose another one of these, so measuring how much time it takes to boil the water above it will give us an idea of the thermal shock the other device suffered. It might prove useful as a heat pump... Monsieur Puig, S'il vous plait?
    - Oui, Docteur
    .
    The brakes holding the contraption were disengaged and both Stirling engines began to rotate. One pushed the other, and it took a while before anything happened. The receiving engine showed some small, timid bubbles that rapidly turned furious as one of it ends heated up. Mouchot chronometred the time it took, and wrote down some quick calculations.
    - Well, this is unsurprising. I think that some malpractice caused the malfunction. Thermal shock was the culprit behind the destruction of this device. But, since we're here. We might as well see how much heat it can generate.
    - Huh, Docter? - One of the workers tried to talk to the frenchman. - Is that... ice? on the other end?
    - Ice? It shouldn't be. The heat exchange rate wouldn't allow it to fo- rm. But there it was, a thin, almost imperceptible film of frost forming on the cold end of the Stirling engine.
    - That's... getting cold. - Constantino said, not knowing what was happening anymore.
    - Indeed. But this shouldn't be possible. Pour more water on the reservoir. And fully dilate the shutter of the collector. I want to see how low it gets.
    And low it went. The dry air of the desert didn't provide enough vapor to increase the ice sheet by much, but it didn't matter. The engines began to work at peak capacity. Some sort of vapour started to emanate from the cold end, dropping and dissipating on the ground. Then it started leaking a liquid. Not leaking, dripping. It couldn't be water, Serrano knew that much... so the only possiblity was...
    - Liquid air. That's liquid air. - Serrano said. How's that even possible?
    - It's... liquid air. We've made liquid air. - Mouchot said. Serrano knew that tone, but had never heard it with such seriousness. - So that engine reached such a low temperature that it became brittle and prone to thermal shock... This opens so many possiblities.
    - Can we use it to cool down places? - Puig asked. That seemed to snap Mouchot out of his trance. The frenchman ordered the experiment to end. The Stirling engines slowed down and stopped. The drip stopped and the ice melted. Normalcy returned.

    Mouchot, unilaterally, closed the factory earlier. Constantino protested, alleging that it would cost half a day of productivity. The union representative also protested, but Mouchot just said that the day would still be paid, so the workers could take it as a holiday. If that was his reaction, then they had stumbled onto something big. Constantino acquiesced and realized that Mouchot wanted calm to discuss just what they had discovered.

    A few hours later, and over a bottle of wine, Mouchot, Serrano and Puig discussed about the events of the morning.
    - So... the obvious one. Cooling and refrigeration. - Puig said. I imagine that we could modify this thing to cool things down. Maybe even use it to make this hellhole bearable during the summer.
    - Oh, yes. That'll definitely be a priority, because I don't know if I'd survive another summer under this sun. - Mouchot answered. - But there's something even bigger. If we can liquify air, then we could easily distill its components. Nitrogen is non-reactive, which would prove invaluable on chemical and industrial processes. Oxygen, on the other hand is an oxidizer. Today, it's produced from water and electricity, but it's a very inefficient process. I don't know how efficient our process would be, but if we can generate it a reasonable price, and somehow store it, then we could make fires burn much, much brighter than before.
    - Which means higher temperatures... which in turn would increase the efficiency of boilers. - Serrano
    - Indeed. What we've discovered here, it might as well be revolutionary.
    - We are going to have a problem, though. As it is, we are reaching the limits of what we can achieve among the three of us. We should hire qualified technicians and engineers. If half of the things we're discussing can become practical, then the profitability of this company will surpass even those of the nitrate exporters. - Serrano said, knowing well that
    - In this country? We won't have much luck. I'm sorry, but I doubt that there are any technicians or engineers of the calibre we would need for this endeavour. We would need to hire professionals from Europe, or maybe the United States. I'll write a letter about this development to Madame Goyenechea

    Mouchot's assessment, even if it was true, hurt Serrano on his patriotic pride.

    Bletchley, United Kingdom

    Morgan had to admit that his brother Damian, whom he always considered an adventurer living in the moment without a care in the world, had stumbled upon something big. The Cotrell Solar Boiler Company was growing at a rapid pace, as knowledge about solar boilers spread throughout the Empire, and even a few abroad, on the Ottoman Empire. He marked on a world map the date in which the first request for a boiler was made, an act without further meaning but which nevertheless filled him with pride. The latest mark was on Australia, where a small boiler that could pump water had been ordered, it wasn't a big sale, but it was still significant.
    As he checked his mail, he took special note on a letter from across the pond. He readied to mark a place in the Americas for the first time, but as he read he realized that his sender, one Charles Fritts, wasn't interested on buying one of his devices. Instead, he wanted to share his experiences converting solar energy directly to electrical current. He attached some research notes and formulas that were beyond his understanding... and then, inevitably, asked for funds for his research.

    Normally, the skeptical Morgan would have just rejected the request out of hand, but today he was feeling generous and so he scheduled a meeting with a local physicist that would help him understand if the idea had any merit.

    Puig was a man with deep sympathies for the Anarchist and Syndicalist causes, and thus his account that it was a worker which first noted the frost forming on the cold end of the Stirling engine might be biased. However, this doesn't change the fact that the discovery of a practical means to liquify air could have easily been missed by Mouchot and his team, as he was almost exclusively dedicated to the generation of heat.
    Although uses for liquid air were suggested that very evening, it was Constantino Serrano the man who best understood the commercial implications of this breakthrough. Hoping to replicate the success of the solar water heater, he correctly argued that the most immediate and simpler use of liquid air would be temperature control for domestic and industrial uses. Other, more arcane uses suggested by Mouchot would have to wait until de development of the Dewar flask in 1889.

    Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the early Solar Race was that, even if Mouchot would cause several small revolutions once liquid air storage became practical, the breakthrough that truly made solar a competitive source of energy was discovered by someone else.
     
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    Part 13: Ripples
  • Cairo, Egypt
    July, 1887


    Ibrahim studied the report the custom's agent sent him. Chemicals from Austria-Hungary for a competing firm, cotton from Brazil (not India, so maybe there was something going on in that part of the world)... and two more Cottrell Boilers, bought by a farming coop near Alexandria. With that, they were ten this year.
    He immediately thought of an opportunity. Ibrahim and his firm's experience with the boilers were months ahead of others. He had gathered - and formed - the know-how to exploit them at their peak efficiency for the mininal cost, and he was well aware that he could sell that knowledge for a good price. He started drawing a plan, looking for candidates among his workforce that could teach others how to operate them.

    Later that evening

    Tahira walked down the streets, surrounded by her fellow workers. Most of them still carried their protective white robes, which also doubled as a reasonably modest clothes for those who took their faith more seriously.
    Tahira also took it seriously, but she didn't have the energy nor the disposition to meet someone else's standards of piousness. Other women, however, were just tired and wanted to go home and cook and clean and then sleep.

    And that, apparetly, was a crime for some people.

    - Whores! You are nothing but whores exposing yourselves to men, tempting them away from Allah! - shouted a scrawny man. He was young and soft and his eyeglasses betrayed him as an intellectual, despite his clothes being tattered and dirty, in a way no working man (or woman) would wear.

    He was pelted with pebbles, a subtle warning that rocks and stones would be next. Tahira's group had learned the hard way that they couldn't tolerate any such display, that they couldn't show any weakness or unwillingness to stand their ground. They have been beaten and abused by men - by thieves, by would-be rapists, and by the police - and nothing but brute force seemed to work. Luckily, this new brand of harrasser was the most pathetic of the bunch: rich kids with too many books on their heads and too many rousing speeches on their minds but not a single fiber of muscle gained by doing hard work. They talked big, but a few punches and kicks later their commitment to their faith evaporated and the legal threats and the begging began.

    The kid fled, bloodied and humiliated, to his palace. To Tahira's surprise, some men shouted threats at him, in solidarity with their sisters and mothers and daughters.

    - Someone should have a little chat with that Al-Afghani guy. That cleric is stirring the pot with his ideas of going back to the Hegira, and we'elre the ones who'll be spilled. - Said Zafira, the widow that acted like the leader of the group.

    - That sound a bit blasphemous, Zafira.

    - No, it does not! Nowhere in the Quran said that you can't criticize someone for wanting to go back to those days. I've read it.

    - That's your problem, you read and you worry about things. You shouldn't do it.

    - Tahira, you are still young and pretty, and you will marry a good man one day that will sustain you. You can afford to not worry. I can not. For the sake of my orphaned grandsons, I can not. If we don't hold our ground here and now, then we will lose it all. Nor can most of our colleagues. They aren't working for a pittance and then facing harassment on their way home because they like it. Most of us have no choice, or only worse choices. We are cornered.

    - I... I think that maybe we should do something.

    - Like what?.

    - I don't know yet.

    Siracuse, Sicily

    Klaus sent a telegram to his wife, telling her that he had arrived well and that he would conclude his business shortly. He couldn't afford to tell her that he loved her, but that was implicit on the message at hand.

    He always wondered what it would be to find a practical application for his device, to see someone actually using it, and if he would be happy when that time came. Now that the opportunity was here, he felt very little, it was more of a nuisance that stopped him from his real work on research, but a welcomed one as it would finally involve proof of the profitability of the device.
    Andrea Sebastiani was his contact, an accountant for a sulphur mining operation in the interior. He looked a bit shady, or perhaps it was his mind finding a face to all the stories he had heard about organized criminals. Maybe both.

    Pleasantries were exchanged, wine was drank and dinner was eaten before they went down to business.

    Sebastiani proved a tough customer, inquiring about every aspect of the machine, its properties, its downsides and advantages.

    - What about the night? Do these machines stop working during the night?

    This question, above all others, had tormented him. During the night the collectors stopped working. There was nothing to be done about it, solar energy was useless for exactly half the time.

    - Indeed. -Answered Klaus - Although they can perform work at a diminished capacity during cloudy days, at night they stop altogether. Without their power source, they don't work... but there are manners in which you could store that power during the night and then release it during the night. Are you familiar with compressed air systems?

    Sebastiani shook his head, he didn't know about them.

    - It's a method to store motive power, very common in Germany. Air is compressed in cylinders with a pump, and then the same pump acts as an engine when work is needed. At the scale we're operating, these should be a cost effective solution.

    - What if we expand? Would they remain cost effective?

    - For the amount of work your operation requires? You could expand it five times and still get enough work out of then to suit your needs. It's trying to power a town where the hard limits of this technology are reached.

    - Doktor Hess, I understand that these devices can help us save on fuel and workers, but it is still an unproven technology, and my superiors sent me to speak with you hoping for a Panacea, which I know this device is not. I appreciate your honesty, but given the circumstances you have described, I am obligated to be cautious... which means that the original order can't be carried on. We will instead buy a test unit, and I would request your assistance purchasing and installing one of these compressed air devices. Your work with us will, of course, be adequately compensated.

    Klaus, reluctantly, approved. He had ideas in his mind, hypotheses to test abd improvements to make, and negotiating felt like a waste of time.

    London, United Kingdom

    "Funds received. Will commence work immediately. CF"

    Morgan Cottrell read the telegram and was satisfied with the answer. Although £5,000 seemed like a lot of money, his venture into solar power was proving extraordinarily profitable, and he projected that he would end the year closing a hundred and fifty sales across the world. From Brazil to Australia, Cottrell was becoming the name people associated with solar energy, and he was willing to gamble with the American inventor that claimed he could generate electricity out of sheers of gold and selenium.

    Morgan's business was expanding, and he knew that there was a market beyond the industrial needs in hot climates. His engineers had designed and tested a solar water heater that was in effect a miniaturised version of his Solar Boiler, and could generate hot water even in cloudy weather. He had submitted his design to the patent office, and was reading the production line to offer thousands of these devices a month.

    So he smiled when he received a letter from the Patent office, he could already count the profits.

    Rejected.

    Rejected on the grounds that the device was too similar to the one already provided by the Compañía Franco-Chilena de Energía Solar, submitted by Agustin Mouchot, Alejandro Puig, Constantino Serrano and Isidora Goyenechea. The devices were almost identical, based on the parabolic mirror designed for the extinct Tarapaca Saltpeter Company.

    The smile on his face was gone, replaced by a cold fury at the insolent Latin Americans who dared to step on his turf.

    "By the boreal summer of 1887, Solar energy was experiencing a massive - if still silent - consolidation. Experiments that were previously solely theoretical were giving way to testing of practical applications, and some large scale industrial applications in an area roughly delimited by the Tropics. While still far behind the extent of Solarization occuring near Almonte (which was still an outlier, given the small size of the town, the amount of irradiance it received and the resources gathered by the Franco-Chilena), the spread of these technologies as a somewhat viable alternative to coal began to influence events throughout the world. These events were probably the result of random and capricious acts, but they became inextricably attached to the development, adoption and perfection of solar power.

    While the true changes will only be noted un the next decade and century, their kernels were planted in the later half of the 1880s.
     
    Part 14: Dawning realization
  • Lota, Chile
    September, 1887


    Augustin Mouchot gazed into the distance, as the horses slowly pulled the coach carrying him. It was a rainy morning, and miners came and went through the The production of towns not very different from this one had ruined his life's work, and hindered him for decades. He was still bitter over it... but he could spot a silver lining on it: on the roofs of almost every housing unit, one of his water heaters was installed. Here, in the very heart of a coal zone, his inventions were being used.

    And used they were, even in a rainy day. They could produce lukewarm water, which was still better than the cold water they would otherwise use.

    So there was hope. One day, he might return to France with his vision vindicated, and the power of the sun harnessed for all to use.

    But in the present, he had business to attend. He was heading towards the Cousiño Palace, a place that rivalled in luxury any building in Paris, even if it was still under construction. Isidora Goyenechea awaited him, to discuss the developments going on in the Atacama desert. There was so much to go through... the approaches by the Chilean Government to assist in the exploitation of copper deposits, the new designs of solar ovens for food processes, the increase in production of water heaters to meet the demand from Santiago and other cities.

    And, most importantly, the discovery of air liquification via Stirling cooling. Mouchot had spent 72 hours awake after watching that phenomenon, writing down every idea that he could think of, knowing full well that if he didn't it would be years before they revisited him. It took him the better part of a month to turn those incoherent ramblings of a madman into something that could be understood by people, but he was still proud that most of those ideas were viable.

    The coach stopped in front of the palace. Pleasentries were exchanged, hands were shaken and, at last, Isidora Goyenechea and him were alone to talk about business. She sat in front of him, still in her stark black, across a large desk of solid ebony.

    "Madame Goyenechea, I think that me and my team have stumbled upon something that might be revolutionary. It wasn't something that we were searching for, and it wasn't even a theory I had considered. In fact, if it wasn't for a watchful worker, it might have gone unnoticed."
    "You must be referring to that talk about liquid air, aren't you? Mr. Serrano already told me about that discovery and that he was worried about you."
    "Not exactly. I mean, air liquification will be an industry gamechanger once we can reliably produce and store it. Like any liquid, it can be separated into its components by different processes. Nitrogen or Argon could help keep produce and meat fresh for long-range trips, oxygen could allow fuels to burn brighter and cleaner, and even other gasses might be exploited. Carbon Dioxide, which represents about 350 parts per million of the atmosphere, could be used to make a substance called "dry ice" as well, which can then be stored and used to cool objects and spaces."
    "At 350 parts per million? Would that be an efficient use of resources? Wouldn't it take a lot of air to produce any useable amount?"
    "Indeed. And, bar some change in the atmosphere, it will remain so for the forseable future. It was just an example, although the most feasible given the current state of the art. Carbon Dioxide 'freezes' at a temperature closer to normal conditions than other gases. It's the only gas that we can reliably and store and extract."
    "Just how cold are we talking here? Mr. Serrano didn't specify in the correspondence, other than it could liquify air. Around -50 °C?"
    "It's closer to -195 °C, actually." Mouchot answered, knowing that that would impress Madame Goyenechea.
    "How is that even possible?"
    "Well, it's one of the properties of the Stirling Engine. Unlike a steam engine, the process is rev-""
    "That was rethorical, Docteur Mouchot. I won't pretend to understand the processes behind your discoveries, with the basics I can work. You were saying that reaching these temperatures prove difficult? What about lower temperatures? Could they be used to reach, say, -100 °C or -75 °C?"
    "Those are higher temperatures, Madame Goyenechea... "
    "Oh, right. Negative numbers... a bit inconvenient."
    "We could use the absolute scale developed by Lord Kelvin, if it would help." By the way she was looking, it wouldn't. "... or we could just keep this conversation on a need-to-know basis. Answering your questions, the main difficulty of producing liquid air is that, while we can reach them without difficulty, staying there is more difficult. The materials on the Stirling Engine become very brittle and fragile, cracking or grinding themselves into scrap. Metallurgy isn't quite where we need it to be to operate these machines... although we can see it from here. With dedicated research, I think that we could have a steel alloy suitable for that kind of work within two or three years. Storage is another problem. One that can be tackled with brute force, thankfully. I've designed a clay vessel that could store liquid air for a few hours before evaporating. It's bulky, though."
    "What about higher temperatures, like the ones I've asked?"
    "Those are significantly easier to reach and use. In Almonte we're developing a cooling unit that can cool a medium sized building. It can cool air down to -75 °C, which is then forced through a piping system to exchange heat. It still in a very primitive stage, but it can operate continuously and lower temperatures by up to 5 °C. We could have a viable commercial unit within a year."
    "Hmm..." Isidora Goyenechea let slip. She was good at keeping things porfessional, but that sigh betrayed an idea forming in her mind.
    "Could we integrate these cooling units with our heaters? The process needs a source of concentrated heat, right?"
    "Indeed. I hadn't thought about it, but both systems could be integrated quite easily and perhaps even cheaper than building two separate systems." Mouchot said. "... it's actually quite a smart idea!"
    "Thank you, Docteur Mouchot. I'm sure these devices could also be used for industrial refrigeration? Do they scale well?"
    "In my estimate, they scale linearly. An array of them could provide enough cold to run an industrial freezer, although I don't know if they could be competitive with other processes in development. They're viable, at he very least."
    "This could be very profitable for us, Docteur. Can the Franco-Chilena develop a viable unit for next year?"
    "About that..."
    "Yes?"
    "Well, me and my team are already stretched thin. Between the solar collectors for motive power and heat, the domestic and light industrial heat developments and this newer avenue of research, we would need 72 hour days to keep up with the pace."
    "And you'll need more educated talent, right? People that could help with that?"
    "Indeed. Running the numbers, Monsieur Serrano estimates that we could sustain ten good engineers from Europe or the United States working on development, plus the resources needed to do that research. What we can't afford, however, is the research for cold-resistant materials. I've been thinking about installing a metallurgical laboratory in Almonte, which should allow us to develop the necessary alloys for viable liquid air production. Those are resources beyond the scope of what the Franco Chilena can provide in the short term."
    "Granted." Isidora Goyenechea said in a confident tone. "The only condition is that I'll have a 40% stake on any and all patents and profits obtained from it."

    Mouchot was shocked by the answer. He expected a round of negotiation, a back and forth that would lower his initial demands. Instead, Isidora Goyenechea just accepted the request for money, then and there.

    "Madame Goyenechea... are you sure you want to accept so quickly? haven't you considered the viability of the project?"
    "I haven't, but my acceptance doesn't come out of a whim, Docteur. You're not the only one doing research on solar energy." - She produced a folder from her desk. Out of it came a notebook and several notes and papers. "I could handle these to you, but I'm sure you've seen my little experiment going on in Lota."
    "Come again? I am not sure if I follow."
    "Oh, I meant your water heating devices. Did you think I bought them just out of the kindness of my heart? I love my workers and I strive to make their lives better, but I didn't spend a significant amount on them out of charity: For the past year or so I've been measuring the production and consumption of hot water... both on your solar collectors and on coal boilers... and the numbers are up."
    "And what do those numbers show?"
    "Between the two of us and these walls? That one day - perhaps soon - coal won't be able to compete with solar energy. Boiling water is cheaper on your devices than with coal, and the water remains warm and even hot through the night. Only on rainy days does coal remain viable... but those are a minority. I have no doubts that scale only favours solar over coal even more. And the genie is out of the bottle, if my informants in Europe are any indication: the British are also developing their own solar boilers. Now is the time to get in and make a fortune. Or keep one."

    Mouchot, being a man of science, perused through the documents. And what he read brought tears to his eyes. At last, at the very last, his ideas had been vindicated.

    The lack of what is now called "Advanced Human Capital" and developed infrastructure in late 19th Chile proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Compañía Franco-Chilena de Energía Solar. It forced the nascent company to deepen its links with Isidora Goyenechea, which in turn provided nearly limitless funds for Augustin Mouchot's research and development. In fact, studies on the early accounting reports of the Franco-Chilena suggest that they would have to wait at least a decade before reaching the profit levels needed to sustain the scale of research for the more arcane technologies envisioned by Mouchot.
    Isidora Goyenechea, therefore, is arguably the key figure behind the Third Industrial Revolution that came into full force by the turn of the century. Her financial backing, and her keen eye for business helped to materialize Mouchot's vision and channel it towards immediate practical applications.
     
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