The world's first solar power station was built before World War One, created by a man with a vision for cleaner air.


the early 1900s was an age of coal and iron. Industry was noisy and filthy, spewing the smoke from burning coal far and wide.


In Philadelphia, one of the hives of industry on the Eastern Seaboard of the US, things had already become intolerable. In 1904, some 50 years before the country's Air Pollution Act of 1955, the city's administrators had created their own regulation for cleaner air. It limited the amount of smoke in flues, chimneys and open spaces, and punished those who emitted fumes of a "certain degree of darkness" with fines.


Into this world came an American inventor with a simple plan – to harness the heat of the Sun so it could be used to power machinery. It has taken more than a century for ideas like his to achieve critical mass, but we could be at a turning point; earlier in April, the energy analysts Ember published a report predicting that energy production from fossil fuels will peak this year.

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The technology that will help push this tipping point might have come of age in the 1980s, but the story of Frank Shuman's quest to harness the power of the Sun shows that the seeds were sown a lot earlier.


In the 1890s, Shuman invented a method of strengthening glass with internal wires. The glass was more fire-resistant and also held together when it cracked, making it less likely to create dangerously sharp shards. Institutions such as schools and prisons loved it. Shuman, who had started his career in Virginia, then went to work for his uncle's metalwork factory in Philadelphia – the factory was casting a statue of Pennsylvania's founder William Penn, and needed to find a way to electroplate it with aluminium to protect it from the pollution-clogged air high above City Hall. At the same time, he started a company selling his patented "Safe-tee Glass".

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Shuman's invention was tested in Egypt in 1913, showing how water could be pumped from the Nile without burning fossil fuels (Credit: Alamy)


As writer Christopher R Dougherty notes in a profile on Shuman for the Philadelphia website Hidden City: "The electroplating and wire glass processes were so innovative that Scientific American magazine published articles on each within two weeks of each other in 1892; they were also successful enough that Shuman left employment to focus full-time on his inventions."

正如作家克里斯托弗·R·多赫蒂在費城網站Hidden City對舒曼的介紹中所說:"電鍍和金屬絲玻璃工藝都非常創新,以至于《科學美國人》雜志在1892年的兩周內都發表了相關文章。他們非常成功,以至于舒曼離開了工作,專心致力于自己的發明。

An inveterate inventor, Shuman had long been intrigued by the concept of using natural forces to create electricity. "Shuman was well aware of the ever-present nuisance of coal smoke," Dougherty tells the BBC. "In promotional literature for his direct-acting solar engine, he claimed a byproduct of his technology would [mean] 'the air of the cities will be healthy and pure'.

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"Our riverfronts were full of coal yards and oil refineries and cheap fossil fuels, so for Shuman to imagine the end of this resource was far ahead of its time."


Free to tinker thanks to his safety-glass fortune, in 1906 Shuman began working from a compound he had built at his home in the north-eastern suburb of Tacony, Philadelphia, to create an engine powered by the Sun's rays. Reflectors were placed around insulated boxes, which were built on swivels so the reflectors could follow the Sun's path during the day. The Sun's rays were directed toward a vessel of water held in a vacuum to lower its boiling point, which was connected to a low-pressure steam engine. By 1910, Shuman had refined the concept to the point where he could run a small toy train on vaporised ether and was extolling the benefits of this clean form of power to all who would listen.


In 1913, Shuman travelled to Egypt to demonstrate his technology


While Shuman was working on his "Sun engine" another US inventor – Aubrey Eneas – created a giant metallic solar engine, which was lined with nearly 1,800 mirrors and measured 33ft (10m) across, for an ostrich farm in California in 1906. The device did work, running a pump to irrigate the land, but was ultimately too expensive and cumbersome to prove viable.


News of Suman's projects travelled, eventually, to Egypt, which was then under military occupation by the British Empire. Egypt had vast cotton fields but irrigating them by hand was a laborious process, and using coal-powered engines was not cost-effective. "Shuman courted British capitalists to invest in his solar array as way to cut coal costs," says Dougherty.


In 1913, Shuman travelled to Egypt to demonstrate his technology. "Sipping champagne and snacking on cheese and caviar, moustachioed men in Panama hats and pith helmets and elegant ladies carrying parasols strolled the grounds, marvelling at the long, gleaming rows of trough-shaped mirrors concentrating sunlight onto cast-iron boilers running the length of each trough," recounted Jeremy Shere, writing about the event in his book Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy. "Heated to just more than 200F (93C), water in the boilers turned to low-pressure steam to drive a specially designed, 75 horsepower engine. As if by magic, running on nothing more than sunlight, the engine pumped thousands of gallons of water from the Nile, saturating the arid landscape."


Shuman's device drew water from the Nile to irrigate Egypt's vitally important and water-hungry cotton fields (Credit: Getty Images)

舒曼的裝置從尼羅河引水灌溉埃及極為重要且缺水的棉田(圖片來源:Getty Images)。

Among the crowd was Lord Kitchener, the British military leader who brought Sudan under the control of the British Empire in the 1890s. According to Dougherty, Kitchener "saw it as integral to his programme of infrastructural improvement of Egypt. Kitchener offered Shuman a 30,000-acre (121sq km) cotton plantation in Sudan to replicate the engine."


Shuman's invention was soon dealt a double blow, however – the arrival of World War One, and the discovery of cheap oil in the Middle East and elsewhere. Shuman's design may not have been refined enough for mainstream use, says Dougherty. "The engine did not find wider appeal but the system was technically somewhat complex and this probably frustrated adoption."


Despite this, Shuman had a far-sighted appreciation of how such "solar engines" could replace dirty fuel when built in great numbers. As early as 1911, writing in Scientific American, he predicted the kind of vast solar farms we see today:


"A Sun-power plant, in order to be practicable, must possess, first, high efficiency; low cost of installation and maintenance; well-marked length of service; and should not require specially trained mechanics for its operation… It is entirely practicable to produce a sun-power plant in this manner up to 10,000 horse-power and over. An ideal plant must be subject to little accident; hence, it must lie near the ground in order not to be affected by storms and winds. Each unit must be repairable without stopping the operation; construction must be simple and easily understood by the ordinary steam engineer; and wear and tear must be reduced to a minimum."

“太陽能電廠首先必須具備高效、安裝和維護成本低、使用壽命長和不需要特別訓練的技術人員進行運營的特點……完全可以按照這種方式生產出高達10,000馬力以上的太陽能電廠。理想的電廠必須不易發生故障,因此,必須靠近地面,以免受風暴和風影響。每個單元都必須能夠在不停機的情況下進行維修;其結構必須簡單且普通的蒸汽工程師能夠輕易了解。磨損必須盡量減少?!?br>原創翻譯:龍騰網 轉載請注明出處

Shuman died in 1919, and it would take another 50 years for his ideas to percolate once again, after the shock of the Oil Crisis of 1973 brought the era of cheap oil to an end. Little more than a decade later, the first full-scale solar energy plant, the Solar Energy Generating Systems (Segs) facility was unveiled in California's Mojave Desert. Segs would eventually contain more than 936,000 mirrors (or "collectors") reflecting sunlight at 70 to 80 times its natural intensity to boil synthetic oil, which then drove an electricity-creating turbine. Though much of the original Segs has been replaced by photo-voltaic panels, the facility, at its peak, was capable of generating enough power for more than 230,000 homes.

舒曼于1919年去世,他的思想再次震蕩后,還需要50年時間才能得到擴散。1973年的石油危機給廉價石油的時代畫上了句號,僅十幾年后,加利福尼亞州莫哈韋沙漠揭幕了第一個全尺寸太陽能發電站——太陽能發電系統(Segs)設施。 該設施最終包含了936,000多個反射光線的鏡子(或“收集器”),將陽光反射到70到80倍的自然強度,以將合成油燒開,驅動發電渦輪機。盡管Segs的大部分原始部分已被光伏電池板所取而代之,但在巔峰時期,該設施能夠為超過230,000戶家庭產生足夠的電力。

Shuman wrote in 1914 that humanity would descend into "barbairsm" unless they harnessed solar power (Credit: Public domain)

舒曼在1914年寫道,如果不利用太陽能,人類將陷入 "荒蕪 "狀態

In 2013, two Swiss artists – Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller – recreated part of Shuman's far-reaching design as part of an art installation in Egypt. Along with parts of the 1913 solar engine was this quote from Shuman, written in 1914: "One thing I feel sure of, and that is that the human race must finally utilise direct Sun power or revert to barbarism."


More than a century after Shuman's experiments, the world seems to have finally caught up with the promise of clean-burning Sun engines. In fact, Egypt itself has opened what is now the fourth-largest solar plant in the world, some 40km (25 miles) north-west of the Aswan Dam. The Benban Solar Park covers more than 37 sq km (14.4 sq miles) and is so big it can be seen from space – a suitably oversized testament to Shuman's vision of harnessing power across the vast gulf of space.

舒曼實驗的一個多世紀后,世界似乎終于實現了潔凈燃燒太陽引擎的承諾。事實上,埃及本身已經開發了世界第四大的太陽能發電廠,距離埃斯旺大壩西北方向約40公里(25英里)。Benban太陽能公園覆蓋面積超過37平方公里(14.4平方英里),規模如此之大,可以從太空中看到,是對舒曼在穿越廣闊的太空中獲取能量的愿景的恰當而夸張的證明。(Benban是位于埃及的一個太陽能光伏發電站群,由約37個分離的太陽能電站組成,總共有約5.5萬個光伏板。它的總裝機容量達到了1.8 GW,足以為約1百萬戶家庭供電。該發電站群是目前世界上最大的太陽能電站之一。)