TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Mirrors to Banish Town's Winter Darkness

Mirrors to Banish Town's Winter Darkness

George Jahn (
Mon, 21 Nov 2005 10:43:32 -0600

By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer

The sun has stopped shining in Rattenberg. But with the aid of a few
mirrors, the winter darkness that grips this small town could soon be
brightened up with pockets of sunshine.

That's because sun is plentiful less than 10 minutes' walk from the
town and from Rat Mountain, the 3,000-foot hill that blocks its
sunlight between November and February each year.

The solution: 30 heliostats, essentially rotating mirrors, mounted on
a hillside to grab sunshine off reflectors from the neighboring
village of Kramsach.

Bartenbach Lichtlabor GmbH, the Austrian company behind the idea, has
already used mirrors for lighting projects around the world -- sunshine
into European basements and railroad stations or nighttime
illumination of a mosque in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

It says the reflector technology is now advanced enough to justify the
company's first attempt to bring sunshine into a village.

It's costly, however. The European Union is footing half the $2.4
million bill, and the company says it will pay the $600,000 cost of
planning the project, gambling that success will attract more

"I am sure we will soon help other mountain villages see the light,"
says Markus Peskoller, Lichtlabor's director.

In the Tyrol region of the Alps alone, about 60 communities suffer the
same fate in winter as Rattenberg. Peskoller says about six other
towns in Austria and neighboring Switzerland have expressed interest.

The technology requires pinpoint beaming, and even the most modern
mirrors have slight distortions and are vulnerable to strong winds.

Peskoller says those problems can be compensated for. But it would
take a mirror the size of a football field to light up all of
Rattenberg, "and we cannot cover the mountain with mirrors to bathe
the whole town in light," he says.

So Lichtlabor plans to create about a dozen "hotspots" -- areas not
much bigger than a front yard scattered through the town, where people
can gather and soak up rays. The mirrors would also reflect at various
times of day onto building facades to show daylight slowly turning to

Rattenberg was built between the hill to the south and the Inn River
to the north starting in the 1300s for protection against
marauders. Back then, lack of sunshine was a small price to pay for
relative security.

But as such dangers diminished, dozens more settlements sprang
up. Some, like Kramsach, are just half a mile away and all enjoy a few
hours of sun on a clear winter's day.

Rattenberg's demographics reflect the pull of the sun.

The town 25 miles east of Innsbruck is Austria's smallest_ and getting
smaller. Its population has dropped by about 20 percent to 440 in the
last two decades, and both Peskoller and Mayor Franz Wurzenrainer
attribute that at least in part to lack of sunshine.

The mayor remembers how in the 1950s, when not everyone had a car,
townspeople would trek over the bridge on the Inn River to Kramsach on
a Sunday "to tank up on some sun."

In a poll of four years ago, about 50 percent of Rattenbergers listed
lack of winter sunlight as their biggest disadvantage.

"We all complain, although those who have lived here into old age can
put up with the problem," says Maria Auer, 91. "But the young folks
are moving away."

Christine Margreiter runs a florist's shop in town but lives in a
sunnier town nearby where she makes up for sunless weekdays by hiking
and gardening.

"It's unpleasant to come here for me," she says. "Dark and cold."

On the Net:

Bartenbach Lichtlabor GmbH:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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