No Sun From OCT to FEB

That’s five months in darkness, including during daytime hours, the fate of numerous locations located in Europe’s Alpine regions where the configuration of the surrounding mountains is unfortunately such that, when the sun gets too low in the sky, it is entirely blocked out for its entire daily course. Die Zeit manages to produce an interesting article spanning no less than three webpages – complete with a couple interesting photographs – about a new solution for this problem: giant mirrors!

Yes, it’s inevitably true that other people in similarly-mountainous areas of the world experience this problem as well, but they likely have other more serious challenges of an economic and/or political nature to contend with first. You could call this seasonal sun-deprivation an affliction of the affluent – but it’s an affliction nonetheless. After all, just imagine having to live for months at a time without any sun yourself! Not surprisingly, towns caught in this predicament invariably display a heightened number of mental health disturbances as well as the related problem of simply keeping people from moving away permanently.

As mentioned, the new solution comes in the form of giant mirrors, placed on the opposite hillsides to beam back some sunlight (when available and not, say, hidden behind clouds) to where the locals live. These devices are not as simple – and therefore not as cheap – as you might think: considering that they need to come with sophisticated machinery to actually track the sun’s course and keep the mirror oriented correctly, each such rig costs in the tens of thousands of euros. What’s more, the output cannot be any broad flood of sunlight, but rather a relatively narrow beam. Still, when put on a steady aim to hit one room in a house through the window, it does make that “sunroom” an enjoyable place to catch some rays. (The photo on the second webpage shows what that looks like.) No surprise that this “heliostat” technology is now offered by German firms, but the concept has spread down through the Alps, i.e. through Switzerland and into Northern Italy.

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