Solar Energy Technologies, Symposium 32. European Society for the History of Science Biennial Conference 2018 in conjunction with the British Society for the History of Science London, 14-17 September Theme: Unity and Disunity

SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER, 14.00-15.30

Location: IoE – Room 784

Chair: Arellano-Escudero, Nelson
Organisers: Arellano-Escudero, Nelson, and Roca-Rosell, Antoni

Since at least the 1970s, after the first oil embargo, some historians focused on energy.
After this, scholarship on energy studies has developed and matured through analyses
ranging from fine-grained studies of specific energy sources and technologies to
ambitious broad surveys of energy across history, for example, Vaclav Smil, Energy in
World History (1994). This historical interest at least in part reflects current concerns
about oil supplies, nuclear uncertainties, environmental pollution, geopolitics, global
climate change, and other energy-related issues. Energy vitally determines the
quotidian choices of households, businesses, and countries. The rise of interest in
energy stories is a very interesting phenomenon that attracted historians from different
fields as economics, environment, science, and technology. Nevertheless, the most
relevant source of energy for life on the earth planet, Solar Energy, has not attracted
enough attention. In some periods, the uses of solar energy seem to be discarded. In
other circumstances, solar energy recuperates the attention, but usually for a short time.
Archives in several European countries, USA and Latin America contain memories
about the research and development of Solar Energy Technologies. Exploration of
thermosolar and photovoltaics between XIX and XX centuries open a discussion about
the technological fix and the problem of technocracy. Those loose memories of Unity
and Disunity remain fragmented and require a kind of narrative against silence and
oblivion. We need to go in-depth with biographies, events, social structures,
experimentations, and larges organizations, some of them active from the XIX century.
We hope to contribute with an interdisciplinary approach to a build narratives of the
non-linear co-evolution of Technology and their eventual impact on sustainability, and
then to strengthen a position that demonstrates that the environmental questions are
not exclusively a scientific, technological or social matter, instead of an entangled
problem of the great acceleration era. This symposium proposes a critical vision trying
to join scientific, technological, environmental, economic, and political history and/or
some of them with a dialogue between humanities, social science, and arts. These
relationships allow us to understand viable alternatives to technologies, their energy
source, and their path. George Basalla’s theoretical model for understanding how
technology evolves explains that there is a selection process between continuity and
innovation, while David Edgerton’s vision of innovation contributes arguing, among
others, that the winning technology selected is not always the most economical, and
many times Creole Technology is the core of the relationship between innovation and
tradition. This panel seeks to stimulate discussion about energy and civilization, the
same title for Basalla’s paper in 1981 and the Vaclav Smil’s book in 2017, hoping this
will be a proper way to think about the challenges to sustainability focusing on the
cultural, political, economic, geographical, and environmental dimensions from a
transboundary perspective for re-unified some disunities.

Arellano-Escudero, Nelson (Universidad de Tarapaca)
Chilean circulation on solar energy technologies: unity and disunity between South America and Europe
Between 1950 and 1980, 4 Chilean engineers went to Europe and get international connections and interchange with European researchers and experts on solar energy technologies. Julio Hirschmann, Orlayer Alcayaga, Angelo Filipponi, and Roberto Corvalán participated at different conferences in different countries: Spain, France, and Italy. The international projection of Chile is well documented especially thanks to the relevance of Atacama desert and the devices used by solar energy applied there since XIXth century. Archives in Fundazione Luigi Michelleti in Brescia, Universidad Santa María from Valparaíso, Chile, and several testimonies give us access to letters, pictures, drafts, and papers thanks to which we could to collect information about the circulation of Chilean researchers in Europe inside international organizations and conferences.
Those events did link the Mediterranean countries, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Americas. This evidence contributes to develop a critical re-read about the global North-South relationship and demand a deep discussion around the methodological nationalism, science frontiers, birth and dead of organizations, and creole technologies. Here we can conclude that the loose memories can bring a new direction to narratives about the co-evolution of the technology and, that we need to understand more deeply the myths of energy and civilization. This work is included in the research project Fondecyt Postdoc 3160197.

Roca-Rosell, Antoni (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya)
Maria Telkes and Giorgio Nebbia and the promotion of an International network of Solar
studies (c. 1955)

By 1953, Giorgio Nebbia (born in 1926) wrote a letter to Mária Telkes (1900-1995) to ask her for information about solar distillation of water. After this, an interchange of papers and letters was generated, including the preparation of the first international congress on solar energy, which took place in 1955. Nelson Arellano met professor Nebbia in September 2014 and, as one of the results of the meeting, he got a copy of the correspondence between him and Telkes. In addition, we have explored some other archives and sources. In the 1950’s, solar energy seems to be considered again as an alternative source of energy, after some decades of a certain oblivion. The congress of 1955 represented a maximum of interest, after which there was a new period of shadow. In this paper, we propose an analysis of origin of an international network of solar research through the correspondence Nebbia-Telkes. Our aim is also to enhance the role
played by these two prominent researchers. Nebbia is a scientist with a long career, being also an activist and a politician involved in the claim for green energy. Telkes was a highly respected engineer, who was the first to receive the Society of Women Engineer’s Award for Meritorious Contribution to Engineering in 1952.

Bouvier, Yves (Paris-Sorbonne University)
[Solar energy research in R&D departments shaped for nuclear energy]

Few months after the first oil shock, most of the industrialized countries took political decisions in the field of energy. Energy saving and energy conservation were one part of this policy, rooted in the necessity of reducing the oil imports. The second part of this attitude was the development of new energy sources. In fact, nuclear energy and renewable energy sources (but also coal in some countries, like Germany) were the two technologies promoted to reduce oil dependence at a national level and at a European scale. Of course, these technologies were not new fields in 1974. This paper study how solar energy research was conducted in R&D department shaped for the nuclear energy. In France, the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique – Atomic Energy Commission) and EDF (Electricité de France, the national operator of the nuclear power plants) decided to study solar energy and were the leaders of some projects.
Building solar houses in some cities, using photovoltaic panels in French Oceania in the 1980s, designing the thermosolar power plant Thémis in 1983… are a few examples of realization made by these actors. The focus will be put on the capacity of big laboratories to integrate researchers, which could be in competition with the main field of research (here nuclear energy). PV or thermosolar technologies were also associated with the social and political contests of nuclear power. But it was also a crucial stake for the nuclear actors to be able to promote other technologies as an alternative.

Cardoso de Matos, Ana (Universidade de Évora)
The Portuguese engineers and the solar power in the international context (from 1955 to

While being bound by the mobility movement of “experts” and by the knowledge and
technology transfer, Portugal was not oblivious to world movement and The National
Laboratory for Civil Engineering (LNEC) developed a series of initiatives to increase research in solar area. In this way, foreign engineers had been invited to deliver lectures, as it was the case of Engineer G. Remenieras who started a series of trials on various types of solar distillers. In 1960, in collaboration with the National Meteorological Service, LNEC organized a Colloquium on the Use of Solar Energy, which contributed to developing the interest and the studies on this kind of energy. Among Portuguese engineers who stood out on solar energy research during these decades, we can mention Joaquim Laginha Serafim, (1921-1994), Chartered Engineer in dams and Head of LNEC Service of Dams between 1948 and 1963, who made several trips abroad and played an essential role in studies development on solar energy in Portugal. This engineer was joined by several others, such as António Gouvêa Portela, the professor at the Industrial Institute of Lisbon, or José Maria de Quadros Costa, an engineer at the National Electricity Company. This paper aims to analyze the initiatives that were carried out in Portugal to develop the research and solar power applications, as well as the engineers who have been associated with these initiatives, framing them in an international context. This work was developed within the frame of the project CIDEHUS – UID/HIS/00057/2013 (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007702) and of the Spanish project HAR2016-75871-R.


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