Based on "A Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology"
by Ken Butti and John Perlin: Cheshire Books, 1980
("Highly recommended, a fascinating read." - JP)


These huge parabolic solar collectors (13 feet in width) were built in Meadi, Egypt, a small farming community on the Nile River 15 miles south of Cairo. They were developed by a Philadelphia inventor, business entrepreneur, and solar visionary named Frank Shuman. Each collector was 204 feet in length, and there were five of them in all. Each collector was fitted with a mechanical tracker which kept it automatically tilted properly toward the sun.

The heat collected by these reflectors was used to produce steam which drove a series of large water pumps. Together they produced the equivalent of 55 horsepower. They were capable of pumping an astonishing 6000 gallons of water per minute, bringing irrigation water to vast areas of arid desert land. All this in 1912...


With the phenomenal success of the Meadi Sun Power Plant, Shuman (pictured on the right) planned to build no less than 20,250 square miles of reflectors in the Sahara, giving the world "in perpetuity the 270 million horsepower per year required to equal all the fuel(coal) mined in 1909." In the only address ever given by an inventor to the German Reichtag, Shuman's plans were enthusiastically received and Shuman won a commitment of $200,000 in Detschmarks toward such a venture. The outbreak of World War I, however, changed everything.

The engineers running the Meadi Plant returned to do war-related work in their respective homelands, and Shuman himself died before the war ended. Germany lost it's African colonies, Deutchmarks became worthless, and of course Germany could not honor its contract with Shuman. With the discovery of large fields of oil after the war in S. California, Iraq, Venezuela, and Iran, the promise of solar power was all but forgotten. As has happened countless times before in history, the lure of cheap fuel led people to turn their backs on the one fuel source they would never run out of.

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"EDITORIAL COMMENT": Shuman had warned passionately in his speeches and in his writings of a time when fossil fuels would become scarce and solar energy would become the industrialized world's only hope. "One thing I am sure of", he wrote, "and that is that the human race must finally utilize direct sun power or revert to barbarism." No one listened much back then. But close to 100 years later, with fossil fuel reserves on the steady decline since 1979, global conflict increasing over what is left, and the health of our planet's environment and its inhabitants continuing to get worse and worse through the use of fossil fuels, is it perhaps time to listen again to the voice of Frank Shuman?!

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