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We could solve our energy problems in 10 years

This space age looking thing is actually a power plant called a Solar Tower. The first commercial version is set to be completed by 2006 in Australia.

It works off a very old and simple concept: hot air rises. The hot air is generated by a greenhouse effect under the collection area around the base. As the air heats up underneath, it has nowhere to go but up the giant chimney where it turns giant fan blades connected to turbines. It's so simple it's silly.

The one being built in Australia will generate around 200MW (megawatts) of electricity -enough to power about 200,000 homes. It will cost about 500 million bucks. Standard coal powered plants that generate 200MW cost around 750 million and that doesn't include the cost of mining, processing, and transporting coal.

But, of course, the biggest savings of these plants comes from the fact that they emit zero CO2 (or pollution of any kind). The cost of climate change is incalculable. But if you believe the Pentagon, it exceeds the combined wealth of every nation on Earth.

If we build 1,000 of these plants, it would cover all residential power consumption in the US. 3,000 would cover ALL US power consumption. If that sounds like a lot, consider that currently, according to a tedious Google search, there appears to be over 6,000 power plants in the US.

It's all politics

According to the Christian Science Monitor, there are plans to build an additional 850 coal-fired plants in the US, China and India.

By 2012, the plants... are expected to emit as much as an extra 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries by that year are supposed to have cut their CO2 emissions by some 483 million tons.

Why in the world would anyone keep building coal powered plants when there is a working technology to generate clean, cheap, renewable energy? Corruption. Texas-style.

There is narily a sector of business that is more corrupt and has more puppet strings attached to Washington than the energy sector. So much so that Greg Palast dedicates a whole category to power companies on his website. Readers of Palast's work will know what this means.

So aside from the price fixing like we saw in California, we can now measure the extent of this corruption by the degree to which our elected officials will trade the very future of our children for the campaign cash of the energy lobby. It was easy to hide behind the necessity of cheap coal powered energy before. Now it's impossible. There is no excuse.

These power plants aren't perfect. That big round base is actually about 5 miles in diameter. And the chimney like tower is higher than any skyscraper in the world. Since a thousand plants would require about 5,000 square miles, these plants are not the best option for some smaller countries.

But the benifits are as incalculable as the cost of allowing our need for energy to alter the weather of our planet. Again, as the Pentagon report on climate change spells out, we won't survive it. At least not in any way that resembles our present existence.

A power plant becomes a moral imperative

So for me, after spending a good bit of time researching the technology and crunching the numbers, these solar thermal power plants are no longer just a cool new invention. They are a political, and moral, imperative.

We simply must demand that this technology be seized upon. It is life and death.

Now, I know there's other technologies out there. Photovoltaic, wind, and wave (ocean), ideas all have promise. But I've yet to see one that is as benign to the environment and cheap to implement with this much return on investment.

And while these other technologies should continue to be developed, especially on smaller scales, these Solar Towers are ready to go. Also, remember that the 500 million dollar price tag is for one single unit. Imagine the cost reduction and increased building efficiency obtained by mass producing 3,000.

There is simply no excuse for not pursuing this technology. It needs to be a campaign. We need to get religious about clean, renewable energy, and this is a way.

Did I mention the Earth is about 20% dimmer than it was 50 years ago? From coal plant pollution? That if it weren't for this 20% reduction in sunlight that global warming would be much, much worse? This fairly recent discovery is bad, bad news people. We are literally powering ourselves into disaster. Global disaster.

We must solve this problem. It may already be too late. But we have to try.

Here are some relevant links:

The Problem

CSM article on new coal plants

Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us Article on the Pentagon report on climate change from the Guardian

Complete Pentagon Report (PDF) Warning: this apocolyptic report gets the "End of Days" people just ecstatic.

Apocalypse Now: How Mankind is Sleepwalking to the End of the Earth Independent UK via Truthout.

The Solution

The Solar Tower company, Envirmission's website

BBC article on the Tower

Wired article on the Tower

Yahoo Stock listing for Enviromission Get it cheap now. Invest green.

*Disclaimer: I have zero connection to this company. Nor do I own any of their stock. Yet.

Originally posted to TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:38 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  wow! super cool! (4.00)
    this is awesome.  recommended, everyone should see it
    •  literally so (none)
      If built in quantity, the solar towers might be used to regulate climate, possibly dealing with the effects of global warming by literally removing some energy from the atmosphere.

      More details on the solar towers here (Wired News) and here (the Solar Tower FAQ). For the record, there are still some serious obstacles to overcome before the construction can start, including title and zoning regulations. The downside of the ST power generator is that it requires A LOT of land.

      •  land area (4.00)
        You're absolutely right.  The problem with this is that it uses a lot of land.  I mean A LOT of land.  The diarist mentioned 5 square miles per plant, but that's wrong -- the diameter is 5 miles, so the area is pi*r^2, or just shy of 20 square miles (my undergrads make this same mistake, and frequently).

        20 square miles -- 5 miles across.  That's the size of a medium-sized city.  If you're worried about sprawl, you should be worried about giant greenhouse power plants!  They will take up habitat, and, furthermore, no plants will be growing under them, so no plants will be taking up CO2 and sequestering it.  You'd probably want to build them in the southwest of our country, the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  If the sun angle is low and it rains all the time, they wouldn't work as well.

        I'm not saying that I don't like these things!  They seem cool!  But, geez, they are not an environmentally perfect silver bullet.  Lets see how this one works, and then decide if its worth forking over an area 500 miles long and 40 miles wide to provide power.

        •  can they work off shore? (4.00)
          that would solve some problems
          •  and generate fresh water n/t (none)
          •  might want to re-think this (none)
            1.  can you imagine the cost of deep water support structure for a 20 mile square platform?  or of a floating device 4 miles X 5 miles in size?  And now every bit of metal in the support structures has to be stainless steel or carbon fiber to resist corrosion.  Not to mention the structure has to be upsized dramatically to withstand storms, wave motion etc. etc.  

            2.  Do you really want an area of the ocean that large to be shaded such that a dead zone is produced?

            shoving land use problems out in the ocean ain't easy.
          •  offshore power plant - ocean thermal convection (none)
             
            Also known as OTEC, for Ocean Thermal Energy Converter.  I learned of this theory from reading Marshall Savages futuristic utopian how-to "The Millennial Project".  

            http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316771635

            This land based air thermal converter seems to utilize some of the same concepts but perfectly inverted.  The solar heated hot air wants to become cool and turns the turbines on it's way there.  The same is hypothetically true for water in the ocean, but the details vary and I don't believe Savage's vision held up to scientific scrutiny.  He proposed 'acreting' structures out of the seawater itself (much as seasnails do) with electric currents.  The resulting 'seacrete' was a fundamental material for his OTEC power plant, which extended a tower similar in scale to the air tower but down into the ocean.  

            I used to be interested in this sort of thing before I became obsessed with how my government was trying to destroy all human society.  ;^)

            It appears a lot of my old haunts (bookmarks) are dead now.  Here's a decent summary though:

            http://www.nrel.gov/otec/what.html

        •  Under the glass, farmland (none)
          Why shouldn't crops grow under there?  Grow biomass, burn it in small plants near the center and send the exhaust up the stack.  Of course, the stack itself is a kilometer high, but...

          Rubus Eradicandus Est.

          by Randomfactor on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:19:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Plants absorb energy, and release water vapor (none)
            so the total energy available for heating air would be significantly less.  So the structure would cost the same, but you'd get less power.

            One of the arguements in favor of slowing deforestation is the cooling effect of plants.

            •  Not significantly less .. (none)
              Total conversion efficiency of sunlight to biomass by plants  is generally around 2-3%.  Almost all of the energy absorbed is converted to heat (used to evapotranspirate water from the root zone).  The evaporated water, when condensing on the plastic cover or the ground, liberates its absorbed heat in the phase change to dew.

              Secondly, plants, in general, have a lower albedo (do not reflect as much light) than bare soil does.  This would increase efficiency over normal soil. But not, of course, if the ground under the plastic was painted black.

              So, while there may be some loss in efficiency, addressing the potential loss of arable land might make that efficiency loss seem worthwhile.

              Fascism. How do you like it so far?

              by keepiru on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 02:05:54 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  might be pretty windy under there (none)
            and in a hot climate like Austrailia it would really cook.  You're talking about a 5 miles square greenhouse, and the hotter it is, the better it works and the more wind it makes.
            •  Ground Air Temperature: 30c (none)
              Source: EnviroMission Ltd video presentation, available at the web site, based on feasibility and impact studies they (along with independent firms) did for the Australian government.

              I'd like to encourage everyone to check out some more of the literature and materials provided on links throughout this diary before making wild guesses and claims.

              If there is no left, the center cannot hold.

              by JAS1001 on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 01:02:46 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  scale them down (none)
          Agreed that they are too large, not to mention ugly! I wonder how well they would work scaled down to neighborhood size?

           

        •  Mojave and Sonoran deserts are biodiverse (4.00)
          Just because it's a desert doesn't mean it's worthless.  I think land use issues are a pretty serious concern with these things.

           The best idea might be to build them over cities so they can trap the 'heat island' air as well as provide shade in hot-weather climates.  

        •  Deserts equal forests and grasslands... (4.00)
          ...when it comes to carbon sequestration.

          news.dri.edu/nr2005/jan_dometent.htm

          Also, you would have 20 square miles at a much lower temperature than the surrounding land and that would be enough to produce windstorms.  If you had 1,000 square miles, those would be big storms.

          People who do not live near deserts or in them are always assuming that they are dead areas and thinking of ways to carpet them with vast arrays of solar panels or wind farms.

          This is an immense, habitat-destroying footprint--it is not environmentally friendly.  It only puts out 200 MW.  And for all that destruction, the energy yield is relatively small.

          Forgive me for pointing this out yet again, but a 1000 MW nuclear plant would take up about a third of a mile--a very small footprint yielding a huge amount of energy.  It would provide electricity to a million households.  And a nuclear plant emits virtually no greenhouse gases.  Nuclear plants are so environmentally friendly that they get awards for environmental and wildlife stewardship.

          •  correction: 1/3 of a square mile n/t (none)
          •  except.... (4.00)
            For all that nasty nuclear waste....
            •  Waste from a 1000-MW nuke plant... (3.00)
              ...is small in volume.  A year's worth is equal in volume to about two automobiles.  

              After cooling for a decade in a spent fuel pool it can be placed in a thick concrete cask until it either decays to a lower level of radioactivity or is taken out and reprocessed and sent through the reactor again.

              •  until the unexpected happens (none)

                What happens when a terrorist bombs a nuclear power plant?

                What if we have another Chernobyl?

                I know its fun to love nuclear energy, and maybe if there are no alternatives, it will be necessary to go nuclear to prevent global warming...

                but 20 square miles of the wilderness has been claimed by humans too many times to count.

                Have you ever sat in the window seat of an airplane?
                I live in Chicago, and I doubt you could find 20 square miles of contiguous land that hasn't been developed. What if we just level a few corporate farms in Illinois and built a few of these suckers to power Chicago. We're running a huge national surplus of agriculture in this country right now anyway. Level some grapefruit orchards outside Miami, and they're good to go. Knock down a few dry oil fields, and we have Texas covered.

                (granted the sun never shines in Chicago, so maybe that's a bad example)

              •  I commented previosly on nuclear energy (4.00)
                in another diary. Here it is again.

                If we represent 30,000 years, the halflife of plutonium, by the length of a football field, one year would be equal to 1/8th of an inch.

                So you take Chernobyl. In one day, actually one hour but we'll say one day, a great big spot the size Great Britain on our tiny little planet Earth became contaminated all the way into the future for the next 30,000 years. If you wanted to get down on your hands and knees to find that day on our football field, you couldn't. Because that would equal 1/4000 of an inch. So, you would need to bring your high powered microscope.

                Consider, we've created these "time shadows", black areas of death that project into the future all over the planet. If neanderthals 30,000 years ago had left this shit in their caves, spelunkers would be cursing the neanderthals to this day.

                So who's going to be cursing us? Let's say each generation of humans occurs every 25 years. Just for simplicity. How many generations into the future will be living with the nuclear mistakes we've made in the little blip, the one 1/2 inch of our football field since we went nuclear?

                It might look something like this.

                Your children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's 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children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children will have to live with every single drop of radioactive material we contaminate the planet with. That's 1,200 generations of children that won't be able to play at Chernobyl or the Hanford Nuclear Plant or Three Mile Island or the literally thousands of contaminated sites we know about and the countless others we don't without severe risk of illness.

                Now give them all names. Cause they'll certainly have a name for us: fucking idiots.

                Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

                by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:41:21 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  They'll know about it. (none)
                  Radiation detectors are cheap.  They will be more at risk from Radon in their basements.

                  We aren't talking about littering the planet with them.  We place them all in the same place, and we keep track of them.  We aren't burying them in anybody's back yard.

                •  Children are playing around TMI (none)
                  And children are playing all around the world in dirt "contaminated" by Mother Nature with radioactive elements: thorium, uranium, radium, etc. They are in our food and water and bones. When life evolved, there was much more radioactivity than today.  

                  If you think the half-life of plutonium is long, consider that of uranium: 4.5 billion years! Yet we manage to live with it every day in many ways.

                  The exclusion zone around Chernobyl, despite its manmade contamination, is about as radioactive as the natural background radiation in parts of France and Spain.  There is no contamination lying around TMI.

                  If you are worried about manmade radioactive contamination loose in the world, I suggest you start a campaign against nuclear diagnostic medicine, cancer treatments, and smoke detectors.

                  You speak as if nuclear waste were like coal waste, which is indeed strewn around the planet.  Coal concentrates fissile U-235 and a coal plant gives off one hundred times as much radioactivity as a nuclear plant. If you want to be alarmed about nuclear waste, the place to begin is with Big Coal.  

                  All waste from nuclear power is strictly shielded and isolated.  And the quantity is small.  All the high level nuclear waste in the US generated in the past 63 years could fit into one football field three meters deep.  

                  If we have descendants (and, given global warming, that is perhaps a dubious prospect), they will indeed curse us for the legacy of vast quantities of industrial and toxic chemical waste and toxic heavy metals which never decay.  I suspect they will have a hard time finding and tracking down the nuclear waste repositories, sealed deep in the earth as they will be.

                  All that said, I am glad you posted this diary.  It is always interesting to learn of these projects that can help mitigate global warming.  And although I have my reservations about this solar tower, I would prefer it to a coal-fired plant.

              •  how's about we bury it in your (none)
                backyard then?

                "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

                by Renegade Prole on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:19:44 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  How about I put that solar power plant (none)
                  in your back yard?

                  Or how about a garbage dump in your back yard?

                  The back yard argument doesn't apply here.

                  •  If I had 20 square miles (none)
                    I would do it in a second.  I'll charge you to build it, run it, and require a small percentage of the revenues on a yearly basis.  I bet you get more revenue out of the power plant than 20 square miles of wheat.  

                    "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

                    by Renegade Prole on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 06:32:14 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

            •  Use the waste as fuel. (none)
              Convert the waste from nuclear power plants to plutonium using fast breeder reactors.  Then use that plutonium as fuel for space vehicles that could move vast masses of material to Mars and beyond for exploration, colonization, commercial exploitation, whatever.

              Sound stupid?  It's not.  Some of the physicists who were part of the Manhattan Project came up with the idea.  They called it Project Orion and it is still a viable option.  Considering the impact that a minimum nine month voyage to Mars, using conventional chemical rockets, would have on a mission's crew using pulsed nuclear propulsion to significantly reduce that time could even more attractive.  It might also be the only way we could get manned missions to the outer planets.

            •  Technically there is no waste (none)
              If you reprocess the spent fuel(something Jimmy Carter didn't want to do) there is no more waste once we start using pebble bed Nuke instead of old school plants.

              That way no Yucca Mtn and plentiful fuel for the future.

          •  Even better... (none)
            ...are the Toshiba-built 4S micro-plants. They take up about as much horizontal room as a large, single family home and are incapable of melting down. They last 30 years. They only put out 10 MWe, but then they only cost $20MM to build as well.

            They also provide enough extra power to create hydrogen gas, itself a very useful green commodity.

            'Fie upon the Congress' - Sen Bob Byrd

            by Maxwell on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:11:37 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  What sequesters the carbon? (none)
            The sand?  Rock absorbs carbon?

            I'm seriously dubious, but no materials scientist, either.

            •  The desert carbon sequestration (none)
              is due to the desert ecosystem, not sand or rocks. There are plants in (some) deserts, and these take up CO2 at the same rate as some forests and grasslands - presumably at the lower end of the uptake scale.

              However all is not well in desertville. As the atmospheric level of CO2 increases the desert ecosystem does not increase its uptake of CO2. The uptake rate actually decreases. So the comment you were questioning is indeed dubious.

              •  Desert Research Institute info (none)
                ... is performing experiments with CO2 uptake in that nothingness that is Nevada.

                Here is what the scientists are reporting:

                With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide-- CO2-- levels have continued to skyrocket. Since CO2 is linked to global warming, these increases are alarming. At the same time, some 40 percent of the Earth's surface is arid or semi-arid. So what happens in the desert is important to the rest of the planet. DRI researchers want to know the impact of increasing levels of carbon dioxide on desert ecosystems and what that means for the global environment.

                Using a novel, data-gathering dome tent they invented, DRI scientists measure the effects of future levels of atmospheric CO2 on the Mojave Desert ecosystem. In a dramatic discovery this year, new findings dispel the previous notion that deserts increase their uptake of carbon dioxide and help offset the increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere that is due to man's ever-increasing levels of coal, gasoline and oil combustion. In fact, researchers are finding that deserts actually reduce their carbon dioxide uptake by a remarkable 30 percent. This means in the context of dealing with global warming, we can't rely on desert ecosystems to help diminish atmospheric CO2 levels. On the contrary, deserts may take up less CO2 from the air than they do now.

                Another discovery unfolds:
                Research also revealed another important misconception about desert ecosystems: deserts take up CO2 at the same rates as some grassland areas and forests.

                http://news.dri.edu/nr2005/jan_dometent.htm

                Deserts contain micro-organisms and algae as well.

        •  20 square miles is nothing! (3.75)
          Ever driven through the western united states? Not the beautiful spots everyone has been to, but the barren, empty places in between. There are many places that don't produce 15-40 jobs in 20 square miles.

          The continental US has 2.69+ million square miles. One of these plants would take up 0.00074% of our available land. 3000 of them would take up 0.023% of our land.

          3000 of them would take up 0.54% of Nevada. One out of every 200 square miles.  

          There may be hidden issues with this technology, but land use is not one of them.

          •  And while we're at it.... (none)
            ...let's put of big-ass drive-ins.  C'mon, 20 square miles of pavement per screen.  No biggy.  We can show F9/11 on them all the time.

            How to put this kindly: if someone were to suggest paving over 20 square miles of the Mojave for an amusement park, many of the people espousing the virtues of this tech would be screaming at the idea.  But hey, there's nothing there, right, so what's the big deal?

            Now, that said, I'm not opposed to the technology.  But unlike what some people here think, this tech, just like any other, requires you to make trade offs and balance benefits with costs.

            And this thing has costs.

            •  Compared to the total acreage (none)
              of farmland in the us, these are nothing. Which leads to my second point. Who said these have to be built in the desert? Since the collection area(base) is a giant greenhouse, I can't think of a better use for Kansas.

              Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

              by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:03:31 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  the solar tower does not involve any paving (none)
              In fact underneath the canopy - if you bother to read the site - grows a veritable rain forest.  The condensation during the night time and the direct sunlight during the day provides a damn good habitat for plant growth.  Even in the desert.  So actually the emmissions from this type of plant would be oxygen b/c of the photosynthesis.

              "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

              by Renegade Prole on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:24:06 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  drive-ins? (none)
              Are all uses for land equal? If someone wanted to put up a 20 sq. mile shopping mall, or drive-in, I'd be against it. That would be rediculous.

              How to put this kindly: This is 20 square miles that produces 200MW of emission-free power, not 20 square miles for a damn drive through or amusement park.  Building one of these could result in a coal fired power plant being taken off line, or prevent one from being built!

              Not all land use is equal. What if this were built over 20 sq. miles that are now used for growing corn (79 million acres in 2003, or 123,000+ sq. miles), which we have more of than we know what to do with. Would you be against that?

          •  You're off by a factor of 100 (none)
            That's 2.3%, not 0.023%.  And it would have to all be in contiguous 20-square-mile chunks. Many of the less-populated areas of our country are also important habitat for wildlife - including the critically importandt desert and habitats.

            Not quite as easy as it sounds.  If all that land were available, we'd already be using more of it for wind farms.

            "One nation under a groove, getting down just for the funk of it" - Funkadelic

            by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:34:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Kinda evil (none)
          Microsoft (see subject of comment) has a pretty sweet little website called Terraserver (has nothing to do with the War on Terra) where you can look at aerial photos of the US. So if you want to look at a 5-mile-diameter chunk of your neighborhood, you can just zoom in and watch the scale bar.

          The link above should take you to a coarse view of O'Hare airport (it's diameter is about 5 miles). (Zoom in on the airport and you can practically read the words on the big planes... and the most kinda evil part is found by clicking on the demographics link below the image.) But if you want to look at something else, just navigate around the site. It's not bad (except the kinda evilness of it all).

          I agree that these greenhouse things are a great idea, but I can imagine all manner of problems with the size. Floating them at sea might work, but then getting their power ashore (and not screwing up marine habitats, shipping lanes, etc...) Gonna be tricky to place them no matter how you slice it.

          Some will rob you with a six-gun / And some with a fountain pen. -- Woody Guthrie

          by abw on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:12:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Evil? (none)
            Well, it depends on who is doing the looking. I can think of many ways Kossaks and the like could use that info to their advantage.

            Now if MS is controlling what we can and CAN'T see, well then we can talk about evil.

            BTW: There is another site that does this same thing (can't remember what it is now) and I checked out my own apartment - it was kinda cool and scary at the same time.

            I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. - Susan B. Anthony

            by BuckMulligan on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:42:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Already a sea-based similar technology (none)
            You build giant tubes down into the ocean. You create a similar movement of heat from lower to higher. "Ocean Thermal". Prototypes have been built.  

            Ocean waves can be used to generate a certain amount of electricity, too. At least one system in use now.

            Look -- the arguments "this technology isn't a solution to all our energy needs" are getting tiring. There is no one panacea. The solution is in applying many different relatively benign technologies.

            That is, please don't try to find a way to make one technology fit all the needs of the country, and put it down because it won't. Wrong questions.

            Some of these cuties would be nice. Along with other solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, ocean thermal, alcohol fuel, fuel cells, etc. etc.

            Reframing the news and people's views of our world: http://www.HeroicStories.com

            by AllisonInSeattle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:58:22 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah... (none)
          So what.. look this is a great technology for the west coast.. there are miles upon miles of absolutely nothing land between Colorado and California, including most of the state of Utah and almost the entire state of Nevada.. that are sun baked dry and would be prime candidates for a technology.. land that has exceptionally low value (except as free grazing land for ranchers... and its not so good for that)...

          Obviously this should be part of a more comprehensive plan.. enough wind blows across the Dakotas to power the entire country, but transmission from there would be a bitch.. this could be part of a larger program...

          Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

          by mlangner on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:27:18 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  just think of all the nuclear testing (none)
            grounds that are inhabitable now in Nevada.  Pretty low land value I would say.  Shit, if I had half a billion I would build one there.  Probably make your money back in 10 years.

            "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

            by Renegade Prole on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:27:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  meant to say uninhablitable n/t (none)

              "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

              by Renegade Prole on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:27:44 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Sure... (none)
              Have you seen power costs on the West coast.. If $500MM powers 200K houses in CA at a bill of $100 per month thats $20MM a month... if production of energy represents 60% of a monthly bill, that would mean you could pay it off in about 4 years.... After that you return would be infinite..

              Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

              by mlangner on Thu Mar 03, 2005 at 05:47:07 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Correction... (none)
                I figured out that the market pays $59 per MWH (for CA), so if you can operate this device for 10 hours a day, and it produces 200MW you get something like $43MM a month or a payback of about 10 years.. of course if wholesale energy prices were to spike like they did in 2001 payback would be about 2 years..

                Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

                by mlangner on Fri Mar 04, 2005 at 07:13:57 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  Why no plants under the greenhouse? (none)
          Too much wind near the center - but toward the periphery - it's a greenhouse.

          BushCo: exporting carrots and sticks to people who don't eat carrots.

          by rockin in the free world on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:07:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Where they were going to put it nothing grows. (none)
          I think you are wrong about no plants growing under them, when they first proposed this, they were talking about farms underneat.  The tower provides water from condensation too...

          Anyway, A good place for a city would be underneath one of these things, no?

          Australia certainly has the land to spare.  It is transporting the energy to where it is currently used that is a problem.  

          That might provide the added benefit of moving cities away from arable land.

          Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

          by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:09:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  You are correct sir (none)
          Actually, I assumed from the BBC report that the 4.3 miles were square and then mistakenly also called that it's diameter. After digging around I think the actual square milage is about 9.684918231281381 based on the parent company's specs.

          So that doubles it pretty much. It's still not significant.

          Nor does it have to be located in a desert. Beneath the glass is a greenhouse. So build them on farmland. I can't think of a better use for Kansas and Oklahoma.

          Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

          by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:51:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Snows in KS and OK (none)
            which would like create both structural and the obvious shading challenges..

            Wind may be better in those market..

            Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

            by mlangner on Fri Mar 04, 2005 at 07:16:05 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  the heat of the underlying air (none)
              would certainly melt any snow on top of the canopy.

              "Religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

              by Renegade Prole on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 06:37:59 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not necessarily... (none)
                since the system works off of air temperature differential, not absolute temperature, it would be possible for the air inside the unit to be below freezing (unlike a real greenhouse, this is not a closed system, its an air pump) and still work because of the relative difference to the very low temperatures outside of the system...

                e.g., if its 5 degrees outside, and the differential is 20 degrees, its still only 25 degreees inside.. no melting..

                Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

                by mlangner on Mon Mar 07, 2005 at 12:39:06 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Unfortunately not (none)
        "removing some energy from the atmosphere"

        Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Yes, the heat is converted to electricity, but the electricity is converted back to heat - 100% of it - when the electricity is used, unless the energy is stored.

        Damned laws of physics. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

        •  Ha! Problem solved.... (none)
          Charge up a lot of batteries with the energy and launch the batteries into space. Then point the batteries toward the sun and give them a push--they'll find the way. I'm sure the sun can handle the few extra Joules.

          Some will rob you with a six-gun / And some with a fountain pen. -- Woody Guthrie

          by abw on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:17:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  "unless the energy is stored." (none)
          Yes, but when compared to fossil energy, this scheme will result in less total atmospheric heat, because fossil energy results in a net addition to the earth's current energy balance, while this scheme doesn't.

          As a sidebar, I wonder what per cent of electrical energy (in the US, let's say) is stored via conversion to potential energy, prinicipally its  gravitational and chemical forms.

             

          "The face of evil is the face of total need." - Wm. Burroughs

          by oblomov on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:30:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Very interesting point (none)
            If the land on which the tower was built absorbed the same amount of solar power pre-tower as the tower absorbs (by tower I mean the tower+collector) then there would be no effect on the energy balance. If the tower were a more efficient absorber than the previous land then the tower would have a positive effect on the energy balance - which would be negative from an environmental perspective.

            On the sidebar, the average storage rate of electrical energy in all forms is very close to identically zero. Otherwise the stored energy, in whatever form, would have to increase forever.

            That's not to say that electrical energy is not stored temporarily, as in batteries for a period of hours-days or in capacitors and inductors for periods of milliseconds-seconds.

            •  But there is 'semi-permanent' storage (none)
              "On the sidebar, the average storage rate of electrical energy in all forms is very close to identically zero. Otherwise the stored energy, in whatever form, would have to increase forever."

              Well, it does increase- each tall building we build has converted the electricity needed to run the cranes into potential gravitational energy of the lifted mass.  Likewise, every ingot of aluminum converts a whole lot of electrical energy into potential chemical energy.  I'm just wondering what percent of electrical energy is stored (yes, only semipermanently, but that could still be thousands of years) by these and similar mechanisms.  I'm guessing it's probably not more than a percent or two.

              "The face of evil is the face of total need." - Wm. Burroughs

              by oblomov on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 05:46:16 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  My guess would be (none)
        to build these in desert areas where a) light and weather are practically constant and b) the temperature is such that you needn't worry about the greenhouse effects.

        I'm just wondering what the catalyst is under the glas that causes the greenhouse effect and if it has to be changed out or if it is organic in nature.  Also, it would require a lot of  maintenance and a connection to the power grid, something the existing power monopolies would be very against.

        You're fighting an uphill battle even if it is in humanity's best interest. Unfortunatly.

        •  Greenhouse effect is not catalytic (none)
          Very hot things (like the sun) radiate heat energy (electromagnetic radiation) at very short wavelengths that can penetrate glass.  Cooler things (like the floor of a green house) radiate heat at longer wavelengths that can't.  So a greenhouse is a trap - heat gets in and can't get out:  Sun-heat heats the floor (or anything in the green house) which gets hot and re-radiates at a wavelength that can't escape. So the air in the greenhouse gets warmer by conduction and radiation from the floor.  Growing stuff on the floor will tend to make cooler though, through transpiration.  It's a desert technology.
    •  Smaller scale, urban overlap, higher pressure (none)
      Once there is a market for this type of solution, other efficiencies will be obvious:

      • Smaller plant sizes will allow electricity generation to develop side-by-side with community growth and bypass the transmission logjam.

      • Real-estate evelopments with big ground-cover ought to offer energy-development rights in lieu of roofing.

      • Using the differential in atmospheric pressure requires these ridiculously big towers. Concentrating the energy into steam might make medium-sized turbines practical.

      It wasn't until factories began putting motors right into the machines that used them that the efficiencies of electricity paid off. Before that, the mistake was to build one big motor to turn all the belts throughout the plant. The size of this thing reminds me of that half-error.

      But I hope it pays off, of course.

      •  Doesn't work that way (none)
        This technology uses the "chimney effect", the same effect that causes air to be drawn into the fireplace and up the chimney. It is due to the difference in density between warm and cold air - it's a buoyancy effect. The effect is amplified by the height of the chimney.

        There is no way that this technology could be modified so as to concentrate the power into steam. That would be a completely different technology, and one that already exists. Sunlight is collected by a large reflector and concentrated on a boiler to make steam. Completely different thing.

        •  "completely different thing" (none)
          Depends on your frame of reference. From an investment perspective, they form a class.

          (My observations did not spring from a lack of understanding of the technology, at least not at the simple level you supplied so nicely. Sorry if the phrase "differential in atmospheric pressure" was a bit inexact. I am familiar with methods of concentrating solar energy to generate steam, as I mentioned in comments further down.)

          From the perspective of market development, this project will legitimate (if it succeeds) turbine generators driven by solar heat.

          Once that category becomes a legitimate use of low-risk capital, then the various methods of concentrating the heat, running the turbines, etc., will get a fair hearing by investors looking to improve on the available returns, get more rents from sunk real-estate costs, and circumvent distribution limitations.

          •  What you said makes no sense at all (none)
            and yet you are completely right :-)

            The success of one does not in any way imply the success of the other from an engineering (i.e. factual) point of view. But I can easily see the investment community accepting this classification.

            •  Mis-classification goes the other way too (none)
              the entire category will be killed off by the failure of its weakest member, just as the category was born by the success of its strongest member.
              •  If anyone is making decent money (none)
                the great shepherd Greed will redirect the herd.
                •  Hey... (none)
                  that "GREED" thing you are talking about is really "capitalism" and that is what makes the development of technologies possible... it also makes most of what is good about this country possible - see the planned economies of the iron curtain for example of otherwise.  If a market is working correctly this will suceed.

                  If this fails it will be because of one of three issues, a.) the technologie does not work, b.) the existing market is rigged to protect existing interests c.) the technology is unable to create an appropriate risk adjusted return on capital

                  Of these three I would worry about b. the most as its the one where politics (a most inefficient market) gets its grubby hands on the process...

                  Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

                  by mlangner on Fri Mar 04, 2005 at 07:23:42 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  see: commercial lighter than air travel (none)
                Two tickets for the Hindenburg anyone?  See also: 3 Mile Island is the biggest reason there aren't more nuclear plants in the US.

                The solar tower better work first time out of the blocks.

    •  Here is another great idea! (none)
      Imagine: 500 Miles Per Gallon
      "There have been many calls for programs to fund research. Beneath the din lies a little-noticed reality--the solution is already with us"
      read full article here;

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7037844/site/newsweek/page/2/

    •  Diversity is the key (none)
      Always great to see new ideas. However there never will be a substitute for reasoned, and planned transitions to alternate power.  It simply has to be  worked out because no single solution will be workable for all the reasons listed down comments (sorry to jump in here, but I am a alternate power user- photovoltaic).  

      If we used the energy that was available locally and instituted sensible conservation we could buy the time to build a matrix of energy solutions that were sustainable.  

      Water can be easily pumped and purified with wind.  Electricity can come through photovoltaic inverted to AC current.  Heat can come from efficient biofuels.  Thermal conservation fills the gap.  Your lifestyle could be sustained on a fraction of your current consumption.

      Then we move on a PLANNED course to perfect the existing mobile sources of energy - fuel cells, stirlings, bio diesel.  Affordable photovoltaics and small hydropower.  Better energy storage batteries.

      We don't need to cover 3000 x 20 sq. miles of mother earth + 60,000 sq. miles.  We need to do what humans do best, think, adapt, evolve.  There is no one magic bullet (except maybe the resolve to change).

  •  What good is an energy source (4.00)
    that we won't have to go to war for?

    Besides think of all the profits that the petro-chemical companies won't make off of coal or oil if we start looking for real solutions to our energy problems.

    Emancipate yourself from Mental Slavery, No one but ourselves can free our Minds.

    by TustonDAZ on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:45:46 PM PST

    •  You win (4.00)
      the Most Cynical Bastard Around Award.

      Send me your address so I can mail you your trophy. I'm tired of looking at it anyway.

      :)

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:48:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Don't underestimate (none)
      the ability to "depower" the fossil lobby.. Take away their money and you take away their influence...

      If lefties were smart, they would look to find organized ways to support and develop these technologies through investment..  

      Perhaps I should start a dKos development venture fund...

      Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

      by mlangner on Fri Mar 04, 2005 at 07:28:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I really like the idea (none)
    Is the size prohibitive, particularly around large cities?

    And you're right, it will have a hard time getting past all the money the energy companies invest in our government.

    Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. - Orwell

    by TracieLynn on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:45:47 PM PST

    •  Yes (3.90)
      But fortunately, electricity can travel a long distnce.

      Another thing I didn't include. In that photo you notice what looks like a farming grid underneath the big circle? That because the greenhouse underneath gorws plants. Even in the desert. So the space is far from wasted. This thing is amazing. If aliens came down and showed us how to create energy, they wouldn't be able to top this thing.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:52:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  maybe stupid question (4.00)
        but how much hot air does this thing generate?  would 1000 of them in a state change the local climate?

        couldn't we just put a big chimney on the Capitol and funnel all the hot air coming out of Congress?

        •  Not as far as I can tell (none)
          It merely traps heat already present that would otherwise be present in the atmosphere.

          Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

          by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:09:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Naw (4.00)
            That's not really true.  Solar chimneys actually trap a great deal of energy that would otherwise have been reflected back into space.  They also change the thermal layering of the atmosphere, as their outlets are really quite high.  They aren't the ultimate zero-impact energy source.  But they are really neat, and they don't have the negative carbon-cycle impact that coal, gas, and oil have.
            •  I don't think so (none)
              It's an interesting question that revolves around the difference between the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and the heat trapped by the glass of the base.

              There probably is some difference but my guess is it would be negligable. Especially when factoring in the nearly 830,00 tons of greenhouse gases it will reduce annually.

              Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

              by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:21:19 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Net impact (none)
                Oh, I'm sure the net impact, when you factor in the reduction of greenhouse production, is zero or less for replacement of coal, oil, and gas.  But if you were prepared to dedicate this much acreage to a solar chimney, you'd get 4-5 times as much power out of it using photovoltaic cells.  The flip side is that the chimney will outlast the PV cells and require less initial energy input.  Als the chimney doesn't scale down like PV does.

                Still, this is one of those neat ideas they teach you about during Thermodynamics 101, right after the Sterling engine, that every engineer promptly forgets.

                •  What (none)
                  is the neat idea you forget?

                  If it's solar tower technology then they won't be forgetting it long. It was easy to ignore when we were burning everything in sight without a care in the world about the consequenses. Future generations will have a name for our generation: fucking idiots.

                  Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

                  by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:56:08 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Well... (none)

                  You could put PV cells on the chimney base... (Sure they'd rob some energy from the chimney, but the net effect would be positive).  

                  I am a little less sanguine about the environmental effects of this technology.  Not only are you altering the solar budget of an area (most directly the area under the collector, but not restricted to that), but you're also altering wind and precipitation patterns.  While a few of these in a few thousand sq km might not be bad, I don't think it scales up.  I haven't done the calculation, but if the area isn't too arid couldn't very local rain put a damper on the energy production?  (Cooling hot air and all...)

                •  diversity is the answer to impact (4.00)
                  we need multiple sources, to blur the statistical impact... thanks for the extra info in this and other comments btw.
                •  Lots of people build (none)
                  sterling engines as we speak.

                  The downside of that much area in photovoltaic cells is the massive expense, the environmental damage created by their manufacture, and that you'd need workers who did nothing all day but replace the cells. You'd also need to redesign it to give the workers a way to get to the broken cells, some form of transportation system etc etc etc.

                  For an energy source to be acceptable as a replacement for hydrocarbon fuels it also has to be economical. And that is why we dont use solar cells now. In fact most solar plants seem to use very old fasioned steam systems that focus sunlight on a central point where liquid is pumped.

                  The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

                  by cdreid on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:19:53 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  If... (none)
                  ...you put solar cells under one of these things, you would lose a couple of percentage points off the power that the cells would generte outside.  This would be more than compensated for by the protection provided the cells and you would still have the power generated by the tower.

                  Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

                  by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:21:21 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Can't you put an elbow at the top of the chimney? (none)
              Can't you put a L-shaped extension at the top of the chimney so the heated air vents horizontally and not vertically? Or does the back pressure compromise the generating capacity?
              •  asdf (none)
                Of course you can install an elbow.

                It will indeed reduce your output due to increased pressure loss up your chimney.  

                And it will do nothing about the plume as the hot air will still rise (just a bit less)

          •  Concerned about weather disruption on medium scale (none)
            I think this is a really cool idea but I also am concerned about the updraft that this would create potentially creating thunderstorms and tornadoes down-wind, or altering the flow of weather systems as they move by, creating some changes on the scale of 20-200 miles.

            I assume the pilot system in Australia will be watching for this kind of thing...

            If we trash the planet, none of the rest of this matters...

            by Dem in Knoxville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:06:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well... (none)
              Thunderstorms, maybe, tornadoes, no.

              But if does do thunderstorms (which is doubtful as there is no liquid input) they would most likely be beneficial (in Australia) since we have a fresh water shortage.

              Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

              by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:25:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  regarding congress, hardy har (none)
          regarding hot air, here's the magic: the heat would have been generated anyway.  the sun hitting the ground would have warmed the ground, but that heat would just radiate back up and go unused.  here, you just focus the heat energy into movement of air in one place so you can harness it. fricken brilliant.
      •  hey! (none)
        don't sell the aliens short, man. their shit is out of this world

        Blog this! Visit me at K Street Blues. It will change your life.

        by AggieDemocrat on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:23:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Excellent! (none)
        Sounds like a winning situation all the way around.

        Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. - Orwell

        by TracieLynn on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:46:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  you also have to consider (none)
      that most other means (coal, etc) generate huge swaths of pollution, much larger than 5 sq miles, and anyway, you can stick these things in the desert and run the power a long way
      •  I didn't realize (none)
        the energy could travel all that far.  The fact that the land around it is arable is even more of a plus.

        It's a shame fewer of us have any money these days or it would be a great investment.  What would be even better is if the government considered this a worthwhile infrastructure investment.  Won't happen with this government, though.

        Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. - Orwell

        by TracieLynn on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:48:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Brilliant and originally written. n/t (none)

    Susan in Port Angeles (my cat)

    by SusanHu on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:46:56 PM PST

  •  Dig this (4.00)
    Now, I know there's other technologies out there. Photovoltaic, wind, and wave (ocean), ideas all have promise. But I've yet to see one that is as benign to the environment and cheap to implement with this much return on investment.

    Sandia National Labs has something with a much smaller footprint, and zero emissions.

    It is no accident that Liberty and Liberal are the same word.

    by Sorceress Sarah on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 02:48:37 PM PST

    •  This looks cool (none)
      But unfortunately, not very cheap. It also appears to require a lot more technology. This adds to maintenance and manufacturing cost. But if someone shows me something better that is already operational, I'll replace the picture of the solar tower with it and rewrite the diary.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:13:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There would be maintenance (4.00)
        with the solar tower as well.  Build up of dirt on the glass decreases efficiency, and dust in the turbines and chimney would have to be handled as well.  I also wonder about this thing venting dust into the atmosphere, which would be similar to coal particles.  If you put one of these in a dusty area, how much wind would be rushing in at the edges of the disk and how much dust would be sucked up and into the atmosphere?  The solar dish engine doesn't have any of those problems.
      •  Does anyone know about costs of scalability? (none)
        I'm sure there's a sweet spot somewhere in terms of the output/cost ratio of these things at different sizes.  And I'd assume that if they're going to build something this big, it favors size.  But I wonder if smaller versions would be cost effective, even unto building-sized units.  

        It would be really cool of some of the large flat-roofed commercial buildings in cities could sport miniature versions of this contraption on their roofs, to provide power for the businesses going on inside.  Or to feed back into the grid in a distributed-generation fashion.

        Even large-scale installations could provide benefits for the poor.  Think of the benefits to Saharan countries which could export power to Europe, or benefits to the world if China adopted this technology instead of burning coal and oil, or other poorer countries like Bolivia, Pakistan, Mexico which could use the power for development or export.

        If this technology pans out, it would be a worthy project for a World Bank, or for a US trying to rehabilitate its shattered image in the world.

        You can never be too rich, too thin, or too cynical.

        by Dallasdoc on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:49:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  But wait... (none)
          It would be really cool of some of the large flat-roofed commercial buildings in cities could sport miniature versions of this contraption on their roofs, to provide power for the businesses going on inside.  Or to feed back into the grid in a distributed-generation fashion.

          In areas where there is a thermocline, you only have to penetrate the thermocline and the cool air will descend, providing power, water and "air conditioning" to the area beneath it.  That's with just a tube, no "cone" needed.

          Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

          by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:30:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Been digging. (none)
      Don't get the high-tech hydrogen-recycling generator, though. Why not just steam?

      And why start with electricity? There are all these ceramic industries out there -- cement especially -- that could use the high temperature directly. Drove around Kingman, AZ last year dreaming these carpetbagger Big Ideas.

      All in all, the pricing seems padded with royalties for Sandia. Real buyers on a big scale will need something more realistic. As it is, Sandia are turning people off by not going for massive price savings. No one takes chances on price parity.

      Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, the old story.

      •  Hydrogen's a great portable energy store (none)
        We need a source of hydrogen if we're ever going to get to the post-petroleum energy economy.  Using the present dirty technologies to generate energy to convert (inefficiently) to hydrogen would only deepen the hole we've dug for ourselves.  If electricity can be produced directly and used to generate hydrogen, then we have what we need to save oil imports and reduce greenhouse emissions.

        You can never be too rich, too thin, or too cynical.

        by Dallasdoc on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:52:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  but this does not generate hydrogen (none)
           The engine is a sealed system filled with hydrogen, and as the gas heats and cools, its pressure rises and falls. The change in pressure drives the pistons inside the engine, producing mechanical power. The mechanical power in turn drives a generator and makes electricity.

          The capital costs of these newfangled engines, I suspect, are what's pricing the system too high.

          One miracle at a time, please.

          •  I forget my gas-state physics (none)
            But there's probably a reason to use hydrogen related to its light weight to volume ratio.  Perhaps it generates better power generation for the heat input.  Any physicists out there who know the answer to this one.

            You can never be too rich, too thin, or too cynical.

            by Dallasdoc on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:01:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm sure it's ideal (none)
              IIRC, hydrogen has the highest specific heat of all the elements.

              But steam is a well-developed industry, and at a practical level, a pretty substance to use for running turbines. You can order a steam turbine off a rate card from GE. These engines, though, have no manufacturing supply lines supporting them.

              •  Well, maybe hydrogen is better as a product (none)
                Than as a heat conductor.  The thermodynamics of this is far beyond me.  I'd have to think that hydrogen's flammability would make it incredibly dangerous, though.  This thing could turn into a giant Hindenburg.  Wonder if there's enough helium around to run it?

                You can never be too rich, too thin, or too cynical.

                by Dallasdoc on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:40:52 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  H2 By-product (none)
                  I my scheme, some of the clean electricity from this  green house would create H2 from H2O by electrolysis.
                  Blimps would be used as hydrogen "tankers" for delivery to fueling depots for fleets of fuel cell cars on the anticipated Hydrogen Highway.
                  (Please note that the SKIN of the Hindenberg was sealed with 'rocket fuel' and the SKIN created the explosion).
          •  Newfangled? (none)
            The Stirling engine was invented in 1816, before the gasoline and Diesel engine.

            Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

            by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:34:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  There's a heavyweight (none)
        GM-Allison has a Stirling engine division.  They must see some potential in it.  And if anyone understands the economies of scale for mass production, it's GM.

        It is no accident that Liberty and Liberal are the same word.

        by Sorceress Sarah on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 05:46:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Scalable, cheap, and local (none)
      From the article:
      Stirling Energy Systems, Inc. (SES) of Phoenix to build and test six new solar dish-engine systems for electricity generation that will provide enough grid-ready solar electricity to power more than 40 homes.
      ...
      SES estimates that the cost could be reduced to less than $50,000 each, which would make the cost of electricity competitive with conventional fuel technologies.

      If six of these puppies can do 40 homes, 1 can do 6 to 7 homes.  At 50K a pop, that's less than 10K per home.

      Will some smart (and green) developer add a 10K to the home price and have a whole self-sufficient subdivision?

      America began begins with freedom from King George's empire.

      by bribri on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:22:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Payback on $10K is (none)
        about 12 years at the average CA electric bill... slightly longer in the rest of the country where energy is less expensive(even though you use 20-30% more electricity than the average Californian you energy hogs you)...  

        Average home ownership is 7 years.. which makes it an uneconomical thing to do for most buyers..

        Kinda hard to sell something on the premise that if you spend 10K more up front then after you own this for 12 years your electricity is free... The risk return is pretty high..  

        Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph

        by mlangner on Fri Mar 04, 2005 at 07:41:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  At (none)
      150k each thats just below 4,000 per home it feeds. Add in power transmission, maintenance etc and you have a continuing cost. If mass production cut costs to $50k each they Might be economical but estimates like that are almost always wrong.

      It is a neat componentised system though.

      The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

      by cdreid on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:26:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  the interesting thing about this (none)
      Is the 30% light-to-electricity conversion efficiency. Normal consumer grade solar cells hit 15%, and only expensive exotic multilayer cells reach 30%.

      Doubling the efficiency drives down prices and land use. The solar tower is simple, but very inefficient.

  •  Does it work in reverse at night? (none)
    Kidding of course.

    This is going to demoralize the global corporate power elite. Awesome!
    •  Not really... (none)
      It will unfortunately be companies like Kellogg Brown & Root/Halliburton or Fluor that would be building these type of projects if it needed to be scaled quickly.

      In the short term, be prepared for the Dept. of Energy to bash this Australian project.

      "But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends." -- Alex de Large

      by rgilly on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:54:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  For the time being... (4.00)
    Plant a tree

    10 trees delivered to you for 10 bucks

    www.arborday.com

    Trees lower your home energy costs (cut pollution output) while cleaning the air (remove pollution already there)

    /absolutely no connection to arbor day foundation, just a tree hugger. :-)

  •  Renewable energy (none)
    There is an interested diary from Jérôme à Paris on a related topic:

    China about to kick US ass in Renewable Energy:

    Seems that they are considering the faisability of such solar towers in China.

    •  mmmm! (none)
      interesting diary...  feasibility...

      ...must go to bed...

    •  China via wired (none)
      Here

      www.wired.com :

      02:00 AM Oct. 04, 2004 PT

      The world's largest wind power project will begin construction this month near Beijing, bringing green energy and cleaner air to the 2008 Summer Olympics and city residents coping with some of the worst air pollution in the world.

      The new wind power plant, located 60 miles outside Beijing in Guangting, will generate 400 megawatts when at full capacity, nearly doubling the electrical energy China currently obtains from wind. But that's just the beginning. Last summer at a climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, China surprised many by announcing it will generate 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind by 2020.
      ...

  •  Really? (4.00)
    "And the chimney like tower is higher than any skyscraper in the world. "

    Really?! Awesome!

    Hell, charge people to have a up close look at this modern marvel to help pay for construction costs.

  •  but (none)
    can solar anything work outside of a few places such as australia and maybe hawaii?

    lets say that 1/3 of the year, a particular solar something is covered by clouds. can it store enough energy the other 2/3 of the year?or, lets say 2/3 of the year it will be covered by clouds.

    assuming that a good energy storage system is in place, eg. batteries, are there batteries that are dependable enough for such a sporadic energy source? in other words, they get recharged every 12 hours for 12 hours only. afaik, the reason rechargable anything isn't popular or cheap is because of the lack of lithium to make large rechargable batteries.

    •  Ever spent time in... (none)
      Parts of Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and NewMexico?

      The number of bright sunny days there is amazing.

    •  Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, (4.00)
      Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississipi, Arkansas, the Carolina's, ...

      This is a daytime system (hence my snerky remark about it working in reverse at night). It does not have a battery...or batteries. However, mechanical storage for a system like this is possible.

      What's mechanical storage? Think brick. Lift a brick in the air and drop it. It will hit the ground with a good jolt of kinetic energy. Now imagine a brick the size of a house. Lift that in the air during the day (using energy from the system illustrated or some other) and then allow it to slowly "fall" back during the night. As it falls energy can be recovered, for instance by turbines..just like in a dam.

      Note that the system illustrated will function on a cloudy day because enough solar energy passes through clouds to cause heating thus causing air to rise. Heating is the key. The differential between the temperature inside the housing and that outside is what drives the system. Thus it might even be "cold" to you and i inside there, but as long as it's "colder" outside, the system works.

      Drifting off-topic, it would seem to me that desert states like Nevada have the sunshine and the open space to make an industry out of solar plants such as this one. What a preference to having nuclear waste dumps opened under federal force.

      This is a very cool idea.
    •  Absolutely solar works over huge areas (4.00)
      of the world.

      Take a look at how much Europe - and I don't just mean the sunny Mediterranean states - are investing in solar, among other renewable energy systems.

      when I lived in Zurich for a year recently, the family I was with were designing & building a new house - it included solar so they could sell energy back to the grid in summer, to make up for high energy usage in winter. They got incentives for doing so.

      solar hot water & photovoltaic power has excellent results on a household basis, especially for inter-tied (ie connected to grid) households, because this solves the nagging battery-energy -storage problem. It just gets harder to make efficient on a grand scale.

      that being said, systems such as solar thermal electricity, as illustrated above, are going to be incredibly important for major power (ie commercial & transport) needs.

      I do however see some problems with the solar thermal system; - (1) they take up huge areas; and much more seriously

      (2) the issue of water sourcing & use - certainly a critical problem where I come from, Australia being the driest inhabited continent. Overall though, many are predicting wisely that water will be what the next series of major wars are fought over (ie post or during the decline of fossil fuels). Water-driven alternative energy systems will place greater pressure on an already taut situation. Increasingly global corporations have moved to privatise whole country's water systems & resources so they can outprice it for locals and ship it "where the market demans".

      Most of the world does not have access to clean water, and the huge energy requirements of developed nations, if they become focussed around water to generate them, are going to create intolerable situations.

      All that being said,  remain incredibly hopefule about solar thermal - it's in its infancy afterall - and can't wait 'til the first one is operational here.

      •  i don't understand (none)
        what you are saying about water. is it a separate topic than energy, or are you talking about the water used in steam turbines in conventional and nuclear energy plants?

        if i recall my HS chemistry class correctly, shouldn't any water (clean or not) work in a steam-driven energy plant? also, wouldn't the process automatically desalinate the water as long as the steam either escaped or was collected and condensed seperately?

        •  Hi Hal (none)
          I think water is a critical related issue.

          With the solar tower, while it doesn't rely on water to power it, assumptions that the massive area underneath its base can be used as a greenhouse  implies "greening the desert" style water-use, which is quite simply huge.

          On a continent like Australia, which is not only arid, but where many water sources are ephemeral and whole ecosystems collapse if water flow is either re-directed or regulated to remove natural seasonal flow regimes, PLUS we are subject to ENSO, this really troubles me.

          As odd as it may sound, I'd much rather see the area under a solar tower left "barren" (and it certainly will become that with all the hot air)n than planted and irrigated.

          Other solar thermal systems (I linked to some in a post below) require water to drive the turbines, and this has several negative impacts (off the top of my head)-

          1. water useage, and large water useage at that

          2. potential release of non-ambient temperature water back to the environment, which radically effects ecosystems (think thermal water outputs from traditional coal plants & the impacts they have on fish species; or conversely the release of cold water from the bottom of large storages, with similar effects - ie fish kills & eventual destruction of the ecosystem)

          As I said, I'm still optimistic, but there's a long way to go, and water use is very much on my mind when I look at renewable energy options.
          •  Correction (none)
            the one in Spain wasn't naturally barren - interesting.

            It got the water as a result of condensation, which is to be expected - but still means it's sucking water from somewhere else.

            I'd really like to see these guys model water consumption  / redirection based on this initial project. Given the amount of air movement, I'm rather worried about what it will mean micro-climatically.

          •  It's not affect free but so far looks close to me. (none)
            This plant might make the surrounding area a bit dryer as it squeezes some water out of the air by condensation at night on the greenhouse panels. But other-wise it looks pretty water-neutral.

            In the video for this plant they show the changing temperatures as you get closer to the center. At some point it gets too hot for most plants it seemed.

            They also had a video of the demonstration plant in Spain. Check that one out too. Here

          •  WOuld you have the same water usage issues (none)
            if the greenhouse did not use soil as a growht medium?

            I would think that not having to deal with soil would drastically decrease the water usage, no?

            •  The plants are the big water users (none)
              They're like big pumps, drawing water out of the soil and pushing it skyward.  At a project I worked on last fall we planted 22,000 trees to suck up the groundwater and draw the water table down away from a contaminated dump site.

              "Whatever they want the answer is no. Now is not the time to fold, now is the time to up the ante." -- Charles Pierce

              by baba durag on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:13:53 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  not sure I follow K9 (none)
              could you elaborate a bit more?
              •  Hydroponics. Instead of using soil as a growth (none)
                medium, watering the soil, you use water treated with nutrients and bathe the roots of the plants at a timed interval. All kinds of growth media are available, but the good thing is that you get to recycle the water that you don't use.

                baba, I know that they are sponges, but I was wondering what kind of savings that could be made by recycling the water instead of just pouring into the earth.

                •  Ah, gotcha (none)
                  sorry, bit slow on the uptake today.

                  I'm not sure it would make a difference.

                  My primary concern is that renewable energy systems such as this one don't involve redirecting water (be it by air convection, irrigation etc.) from existing ecosystems.

                  I guess if you could make an entirely closed loop system based on hydroponics as you suggest, this problem could be mitigated, if not entirely avoided. But surely the cost and engineering involved to funnel the air over and over would put even more strain on an already ambitious system??

                  Also, I agree with other excellent comments further up-thread on the dangers of disrupting what we percieve as 'barren' places, ie (near or total) deserts, which in actual fact are more often than not, wonderfully diverse.

                  It would be a terrible tragedy if renewable energy solutions were to cost us significantly in terms of biodiversity loss.

                  I think I'm back in total to 'wait and see' - and I do wish they would include on their site some modelling of microclimatic changes - air / moisture movement in particular.

                  •  Personally, I think that the trade off in space (none)
                    would be worth the net savings. We are not just talking about a piece earth vs global warming, we are talking about a piece of earth vs hundreds of thousands of deaths, lost coastline, health care costs, poor quality of life, broken roads, saving mountaintops, saving the streams in the pac NW, and a host of other problems in coal.

                    I do not like nuclear because it is dangerous, even if there is no capability of meltdown. That shit is bad voodoo.

                    I would be worried about climactic effects though.

          •  As... (none)
            ...the hot air rises in the tower, it cools, and releases water.  It may rain under there.  Even id it does not, the cool sides of the towet (and they will be cool at altitude) will cause water vapour to condense on the sides of the tower.

            They are water producers...  Stuff is going to grow under them if you leave bare soil.

            Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

            by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:42:02 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  You'd be suprised... (none)
      at the number of solar projects in Seattle.  

      I'm thinking seriously about adding a solar pre-heater for my house's hotwater tank.  I can't get natural gas in my neighborhood, so anything that I can do to take the load off of my all electric house is a good thing.

      Only in the George W. Bush White House would the term "media whore" be taken literally.

      by mlharges on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:30:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  WhyTF (none)
    Does the MSM not cover this?
  •  Greenhouse Effect? (none)

    What scale and particulars are we talking here? Is it possible to use the area under the dome for (limited? tropical?) agriculture, or does that impair the processes this thing uses to generate power?

    It's like the media listened to Weird Al's "Dare to be Stupid" and said "Yes! This is how the world should be!"

    by RHunter on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:15:59 PM PST

    •  Answered above (none)
      below is a vast greenhouse.
    •  Yes (none)
      That's why in the photo you can make out an ag grid underneath the glass. Plants that wouldn't even grow in that location will grow under the collection base because of increased condensation.

      So efftively, these things will turn deserts into farms. An unexpected side effect according to their video.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:30:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ah, but why is this better for farming than (none)
        the desert already was?  i mean, there was already heat there.  needs water to make the agricultural part work.  which may be an accessive cost depending on where you put it.  still, if you've got the water to grow plants someplace already, you don't have to justify taking that land away from growing plants, cause you can just stick this thing over top of it.
        •  Good question (none)
          /but why is this better for farming than the desert already was? /

          I think it has to do with moisture trapping when you create a greenhouse, the result is both trapped heat and moisture... and they both are things deserts don't do well with (having slept in a desert at night... even during summer... I can tell you it aint warm).

          --
          Make sure everyone's vote counts: Verified Voting

          by sacrelicious on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:16:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Greenhouses (none)

          If you've ever been inside one, greenhouses are really, really humid. It has to do with them being enclosed but admitting lots of sunlight. The water evaporates but has nowhere to go, so it stays in the air and (I believe...?) condenses again.

          It's like the media listened to Weird Al's "Dare to be Stupid" and said "Yes! This is how the world should be!"

          by RHunter on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:29:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  It's good, but we in the US are working, too (none)
    Sun catchers tuned to crank out the juice

    It's cost-competitive even with coal-fired plants:

    Power today costs from about 3 cents to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending upon the customer's location and the time of day. The average is 6.6 cents/kW-hr for the industrial sector in 2004, according to DOE. In contrast, the Stirling solar-powered substations operate only during peak hours (daytime) but at potentially the same or less than the peak rates paid today -- or "about 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour during peak periods," said Liden of Stirling Energy Systems.

    •  Stirling Engines (none)
      can be used to generate power AND create potable water.

      I'm looking for a "good" link, but if you do a google search on Dean Kamen, water, and Stirling you'll find some information about his particular version of the Stirling, which he is hoping will bring power and clean water to villages throughout the 3rd world.

  •  government isn't all bad either! (4.00)
    i love that on enviromissions website, under "The Project" -> "Why Australia" it says:

    "Australia's leading construction and operating standards will ensure the project meets the highest engineering standards which is an important consideration for future export of the technology."

    I presume when it says "leading construction and operating standards" it is talking about *gasp* Australia's REGULATIONS.  What a novel concept (at least to the neocons in power)-- those regulations can help you achieve a better product?  Regulations GOOD from a business's perspective?  Whodathunkit?

    •  Australian government (none)
      While I am really pleased to see this project has federal & state government backing, I must sadly say that when it comes to renewable energy, the current Howard administration is largely backward   - and once again folowing Bush's lead, aarrgh!

      Howard last budget refused to raise the renewable energy target for Australia, which has severely hampered the growth of our renewable energy industries - see article below

      He also set aside a ridiculous amount of money to subsidise industry research into 'clean coal' to pacify our huge mining interests (australia still has some of the largest coal deposits in the world).

      Even worse, he committed funds to investigating the flabbergastingly stupid idea of pumping CO2 into the ocean.

      There was nothing in the last budget that actually encouraged renewable energy industries in Australia - yet you look at our climate and it's obvious we should be world leaders.

      Technologically we were several years back, but now we are slipping & in danger of losing major investments, such as the BP solar plant

      article:

      http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s1093111.htm

      •  The administration (none)
        you in australia consider "backwards" and "right wing".. Americans would consider "left of the democratic party". That seemed to shock Aussies when i was there. Things australians take for granted.. like how you treat your workers.. would be considered "commie" by the republicans here.... and "too whacky and far left" for Democrats here.

        It's a DAMNED shame every american isnt given a ticket to a random foreign nation on his 18th birthday.

        The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

        by cdreid on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:35:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know cd (none)
          but hey, why aim in the wrong direction?

          I'd also somewhat disagree with you in your thinking that we are so left.

          Perhaps a better description is we are 10-12 years behind the USA. So what Howard really represents is our version of the Reagan / Bush Snr years.

          And believe me there are lots of similarities - the devil is in the detail. Alas Australians are just as apathetic and ill-informed as your average American / Brit / Westerner, and not nearly enough are noticing the rot right underneath their noses.

          Re: industrial relations- Howard has every intention of introducing an American style system this July. Pity us.

          •  Nah (none)
            I was shocked at the difference. Literally. You arent "where we were in the 80's". YOu are where 70's democrats WANTED us to go.

            As far as your economics... your leaders fucked you.. and have you thinking its a good thing. By implementing the trade agreement with america. I pointed this out to my conservative boss over there , but he didnt seem to get it. That those Aussie products which sold for $5Aus would be replaced by $1 american versions... and so would the Aussie jobs they produced.

            The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

            by cdreid on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 01:24:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  dunno if you're still reading this thread (none)
              but agree emphatically 100%+ on the f**ing free trade agreement. It's the worst document my country's leaders have ever signed. I am deeply, deeply concerned about the effects it's going to have.

              I'd say if you dug a little deeper into Australian political and socio-economic life, you'd find yourself seeing the parallels I do between the ground-breaking rise in conservatism in the 80s the USA had, and what is happening in Australia now.

              I suspect you're (understandably) so overwhelmed by what's happening in terms of neo-conservative extremism right now in the USA that what's happening in Australia barely registers on the same meter. But what is happening is the way to the hell the US is suffering now is being paved down here.

              I'm deeply afraid for my country, not least because there is no effective opposition or popular movement to oppose here, as there is in the USA and so effectively given voice by places like Kos. I keep reading here to learn, and keep looking for an effective grass-roots based voice over here. I can find voices, it's the *effective bit that's the hardest.

              cheers

  •  devil in the not so detailed (4.00)
    I agree we have to get to energy renewal tech fast and this is interesting BUT..

    3,000 of them ? Lets consider..

    they take up the following area :
    The proposed structure will have a width similar in size to a football field and will stand in the centre of a huge glass roof spanning 7km (4.3 miles). The central structure will be at a proposed height of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), more than twice the size of the world's current tallest freestanding building, the Canadian National Tower in Toronto.

    Assuming oyu would have to space them out to work, that's a whole bunch of real estate !!

    Secondly, not so economical as one initially espouses.

    www.enviromission.com.au :

    Will power from Solar Towers be competitive?

    The selling price of Solar Tower renewable energy will be based on the average peak pool electricity price paid to generators plus an additional renewable energy credit incentive paid by retailers.

    Further value is expected to be added to the internal rate of return through the emerging synthetic carbon trading instrument, where a premium is paid for a tradeable unit that represents a carbon abatement value - this form of trading will off-set carbon producing activity of companies needing to balance their carbon ledgers.

    So it needs lot of subsidies to compete.

    Personally I think in the end the solution as now, will be a mix of different technologies determined by all kinds of factors...until someone comes up with a cheap way of turning water into hydrogen !

    Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

    by Pounder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:23:24 PM PST

    •  Coal mines (4.00)
      Coal mines are extremely large.  Oil fields are very large.  The size of the generating station is not the only area you should be considering, when comparing the land use of these technologies.

      Also consider that building a 1000-meter-tall chimney is much easier than building a 1000-meter-tall office building.  The static load at the top of the chimney is zero, while the static load at the top of the office building is everything you intend to put on the top floor.  Big difference.

      I once ran the numbers on this.  It's easy for nay-sayers to come up with EXTREMELY SCARY sounding data about how much real estate is required.  But if you do the math, you will find that you could power the entire state of California (peak load and peak generation) from a photovoltaic array that takes up less than 1/10th the area of Edwards Air Force Base.  To which I say: move over, Air Force.

      •  No I agree (none)
        But still, a free standing building that is TWICE the size of anything that currently exists ! So i dont think you can say it is much easier, since it hasnt been done yet.

        And since with other power generation, the land mass used is dispersed, local effects are smaller. Power generation and mining might be on different continents for example, but with this, some unlucky folks get it all in their backyard, and however you dice the math, its still fricken HUGE !

        now none of this is to say that it shouldnt be used, of course I think we should have lots of different technoligies for power generation, but I dont think this one solution is the one size fits all type that coal and oil currently are.

        there is also another consideration with solar power that I havent seen answered anywhere. If you take energy form the sun and turn it into electricity, you are no longer using that energy to heat the earth. What environmental impact does that have on a massive scale if any, both regionally and globally?

        Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

        by Pounder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:55:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't think so either. (none)
          But this one technology has been working for 7 years in spain. And with just 500 of these things at a cost of only 250 billion, we would reduce enough greenhouse emmisions to comply with Kyoto. Imagine that.

          Also, again, what occurs under the glass collection plate is a thriving greenhouse. Far from unlucky. In fact, in the vast deserts of the southwest US, fortunate would be a better term.

          Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

          by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:00:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You have a peculiar concept of biotic value (none)
            Deserts are ecosystems. Disrupting them to grow crops is as unfortunate as ripping up prairies to grow grain.

            I'm not arguing that we should never disrupt any ecosystem, or that we could avoid it, but your categorization of an activity that would destroy square miles of viable biotic communities as "fortunate" is unfortunate, to say the least.

            My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right. Sen Carl Schurz

            by Bill Rehm on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:24:50 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  heat and environmental impact (none)
          Concerning your last paragraph:  the solar energy that we are converting into electricity will eventually be converted back into heat when the electricity is used, so it is not true that that energy will no longer be heating the earth.  It will eventually heat the earth the same amount, down to the last photon.
          •  Well that might be true to a large extent (none)
            but the energy will not be dissipated in the same region, so we will be moving energy around. so there might be regional impacts. It may be nothing but I havent seen any impact studies on this yet.

            Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

            by Pounder on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 06:28:22 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  But wait... (none)

          But still, a free standing building that is TWICE the size of anything that currently exists ! So i dont think you can say it is much easier, since it hasnt been done yet.

          ...It does not need to be a building.  It only needs to be a tubular membrane.  The top 30% of the "building" could be a polymer membrane tube that is held up by a dougnut shaped hydrogen ballon.

          If the wind gets too high, it can be temprarily retracted (but generating efficiency would be reduced).

          Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

          by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:54:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  scary numbers (none)
        Hmmm.  All the areas administered by the U.S. Park Service, outside Alaska, amount to 52,000 square miles, while 3000 of these babies would need 50,000 sq mi. So let me be the first to welcome the future, self-supporting, U.S. National Solar Chimney Service. Ah, Yosemite under glass!

        don't say nay, say maybe

        •  No, 15,000 square miles (none)
          We could build 500 at 2,000 SqMi and comply with Kyoto.

          Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

          by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:03:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  math? (none)
            Diameter is 4.7 miles, right?

            Area for one = pi r^2 = 3.14 * (4.7/2) * (4.7/2) = 17.34 sq mi

            Area for 3000 = 3000 * 17.34 = 52020 sq mi

            Area for 500 = 500 * 17.34 = 8670 sq mi

            And what about spacing?  If you drop 3000 of these babies at random in a square box 2.7 million sq mi in area (1643 mi on a side), the median distance between them is 17 miles.  And we don't really have that much space.  In that same fictional USA, if you want to ensure that there are no more than 1 every 100 miles, then you have only 16^2 = 256 boxes to put them in.  

            Even at 1 per 100 miles they're going to be ...  noticeable.

            I give you maybe 10 - 50 for the whole country at most.

            I hope they will be built!  

            Alternative should = diverse, otherwise we'll just have some other monolithic energy industry pushing us around.

    •  Yes and No (none)
      You don't have to space them out.

      They don't need subsidies to compete. As I said, the cost is expected to be around 500 million to build. Even if it goes over to 750 million, a coal fired plant with equal output (200MW) cost 750 just to build and continuous costs to supply with fuel.

      As for the real estate, as I said, this makes solar tower not applicable in every locale. So on that I agree, the solution will be multiple technologies.

      But for the US, the size is not a problem. Consider, the land area required to build 3,000 tower would be roughly 15,000 square miles. That's 1/20th the size of Texas. Still a lot, but when you consider that underneath the glass in these things, plants thrive, it would actually boost their agriculture output.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:42:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I had read somewhere (none)
        That europe was investigating the possibilities of something like this but placing it in saharan africa.

        This has two advantages. One it doesnt use up valuable real estate, and the sun always shines, and secondly it helps the economies of africa, whereby the sun can be the new oil.

        Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

        by Pounder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:49:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  In a few years... (none)
          The Sahara will be a garden again.

          The desert is receding north.  Due to global warming.

          So it might not be the best place to build them.

          I believe that the middle east will also become green again.  Bit ironic really, we are "stealing" their oil and using that oil is destroying America's ecology but will improve theirs...

          They are certainly going to continue to call Allah "the just".

          Truckle the Uncivil, Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae

          by Truckle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:59:53 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  why wouldnt you have to space them out ? (none)
        If they was just one basically monstrous one, made up of lots of smaller ones conjoined, how would the air get underneath to heat and rise in sufficient quantity?

        Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

        by Pounder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:56:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  H20 to H (none)
      "until someone comes up with a cheap way of turning water into hydrogen"

      This is what Wired magazine wrote recently:

      "Currently, the cost of producing hydrogen fuel is greater than the value of the energy it delivers. Production entails either electrolysis in water or extraction of hydrogen from fossil fuels like natural gas."

      Typically these result in a net loss of power, because of the hydrogen bond. Not good.

      The bright (possible) future of Hydrogen is in solar extraction, but it's at least 5 and probably 10 years off.

      Meantime, plant a tree, and support renewable energy wherever you can.  

      "Pedro offers you his protection."

      by Ten Buddhas on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:46:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Money & Wired Magazine (none)
        Health Care costs are accelerating like mad.
        Infants born in LA have lung capacity reduced by 25%.
        Asthma in California cities is reaching epidemic proportions.
        The exhaust from  a hydrogen fuel cell car is pure H2O.
        Wired's math model was created for an earlier millenium.
  •  This sounds great, but (none)
    building the tallest structure (by far) in the world will present serious engineering challenges, especially wind-related stress. It's not clear from the links that these problems have been resolved -- the most recent link deals with the purchase of the necessary land.

    $50 a barrel oil obviously helps, but dirty coal is still a lot cheaper. It would be nice if coal were refined into a cleaner fuel, but that's not happening.

    The other problem for this project is where the money will come from. The company seems to be seriously undercapitalised.

    And as much as I'd like to make a killing on a green stock, this is a penny stock with very little financial information readily available.

    The Republicans want to cut YOUR Social Security benefits.

    by devtob on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:27:15 PM PST

  •  Categorization (none)

    in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

    by Jerome a Paris on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:33:40 PM PST

  •  where to put it? (none)
    How about the offensive parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska? Plop them right into the middle of red districts and say that we are happy to bring jobs and innovative technology to their areas, while strategically using them for other nefarious ends. Why not? All the cool red kids are doing it.

    Benefits:

    1. Could harness existing hot air to supplement towers and solar cells to reduce overall footprint.
    2. Would increase humorous reports of UFO sightings by women in blue muu-muus on the nightly news.
    3. If it makes the climate hotter there, who would notice?
    4. Could build a NASCAR track around it that would have one bitchin' infield.
    5. Could make use of existing shit to grow better plants.

    Now that's win-win.

    "I am a patriot, and I love my country because my country is all I know."

    by Aragorn for America on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:37:19 PM PST

  •  I wonder... (none)
    Size seems to be a restriction, but the benefits seem to out weigh those size constraints.

    I wonder if they can be built on smaller scales to fit smalelr communtities.

    Give the small ones to rural areas and smalelr cities, etc.

    Leave power plants, for now, to the largeest cities until a suitable alternative to fit these in can be figured out.

    Insert witty and snide remarks here.

    by Stand Strong on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:38:06 PM PST

  •  I wonder if (none)
    There could be a way to make tiny sized ones that could be placed on roofs to help power the building underneath.
    •  i think part of this relies on (none)
      the fact the temperature of the air at the higher elevation is much less than the lower elevation.  hot air expands, so it expands into the cooler air space, hence moving the air up.

      i think if you had a 10 meter tower it wouldn't be enough temperature difference

    •  Nope (none)
      There has to be a temperature difference between the bottom and the top of the chimney.

      If you have something too small, you won't generate the air movement needed to turn turbines and make power.

      •  Why the height -- (none)
        It's driven by the difference in density between hot and cold air, just as a hydroelectric dam is driven by the difference in density between water and air.

        A higher tower is like a higher dam -- it creates a larger pressure difference. Roughly speaking, half the height means half the power.

        Consider decentralist solutions -- more choice, stronger communities, less dangerous power.

        by technopolitical on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:16:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  1/4 power I think (none)
          I think the math is inverse square law not proportionality.

          Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

          by Pounder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:20:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Trust me on this (none)
            I work with this sort of stuff.

            But to unfold the explanation a little:

            1. Pressure is proportional to height (or depth) because each layer adds the same amount to the total.

            2. Power from a flow is proportional to the pressure difference, because twice the force can do twice the work.

            Consider decentralist solutions -- more choice, stronger communities, less dangerous power.

            by technopolitical on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:10:02 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I prefer this system for solar thermal energy (none)
    also being pioneered in Australia (although our solar technology edge is fading thanks to our backwards pointing asshole government right now)

    Links:

    solar heat and power:

    http://users.tpg.com.au/adslmtv6/

    article on Australia's solar industry (slightly dated but still worth a read - talks about the development above):

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s1093111.htm

    •  PS forgot to add (none)
      that unlike the tower concept, the one above for solar thermal energy is modular.

      Also pleased to see that in addition to the 40 megawat plant in Australia, they have also been commissioned to build on in India.

  •  One of the wonderful things about solar energy (4.00)
    is that it's widely distributed.  You can make your own small household harvesting systems and stay away from the giant centralized systems like this one.  The losses involved in transporting energy from the production site to the point of use are enormous.  A well-place bomb or airplane could cause severe havoc, whereas 10,000 little sites are not terrorist targets.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not against it, just wanted to throw in my .02 worth...

    •  The less centralized ... (none)
      the more resilient.  Very important point.

      I think this is an interesting-looking technology, but its value would be in playing a sensible role in combination with a number of other green strategies, high on the list being efficiency, passive solar heating, wind, and daylighting.

    •  Solar: Use urban & suburban roof tops (none)
      That roof real estate is not being used for anything else and is not natural habitat.  

      Furthermore, the energy generated is much closer to the consumer.

      •  Believe it or not... (none)
        I know this sounds ridiculous but back in the 1970s some national agency did a study of solar installations on roofs and discovered that there was a serious safety problem: people falling off. They were able to show that, with so many installations, there'd be some need for cleaning them, and if the homeowners did it themselves, sure as shooting some of them would fall off the roof and kill themselves. It wasn't many, but on the basis of deaths per megawatt hour, it was about half as bad as coal, as I recall.
    •  Decentralization is my religion (none)
      I'm working on an essay now about how decentralization is the key to making government work again and how Democrats need to make decentralization their main, or one of their main themes.

      But it doesn't apply in every circumstance. While I would much prefer a decentralized method, promised by photovoltaic home units someday, the costs are enormous currently.

      And while I am in agreement with the security concerns of any centralized power plant, at least the consequences of crashing a plane into this one wouldn't be nuclear contamination for the next 30000 years.

      But the bottom line is energy production and distribution is already a centralized system. Even if the technology worked, fitting every home with solar arrays would take 50 years at least. The thing with these things is they could literally be built in 10 years and everyone would be using them. Or at least those in the areas where they would work best.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:19:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  decentralization in government (none)
        or just electricity production?  

        hey, i've been casually working on a diary about how decentralization is the key to making government work again, and how many democrats, and even kossacks can be very hypocritical on this matter. :) my diary focuses on the latter point, because as to  the actual implementation of decentralization, I still haven't put together all the pieces of the puzzle in my head.  i see it not just in government, but in the economy, and in industry, and finance.  anyway, i'm looking forward to your diary.

        ps - i rememeber john kerry actually mentioned these solar towers somewhere deep in his platform, yet i never heard him speak of it.  beyond the environmental benefits, can you imagine the economic force of building the infrastructure to support these towers? we need this.

  •  something exotic (none)
    How about a geomagmatic power plant: the PowerTubeTM?

    The Power Tube Argus is a GEOMAGMATIC device that differs from a standard geothermal system in that it does not need water, steam or steam pressure to operate. It uses only the heat of the Earth and low to medium temperature heat, 110-200 C.

    The Argus units are designed for the 1-5 and 10 Megawatt market. The installation consists of mostly a down-hole system with a very small surface footprint. Argus operates with a heat exchanger and in addition can also work with a thermal riser. The thermal riser option is used when the required temperatures are further down than the total length of the power plant itself. The thermal riser contains a biodegradable, synthetic, heat exchange fluid that circulates through its coaxial, flexible system which transfers the heat found at lower temperatures into the heat exchanger at the base of the installation.

    The 4th Estate is America's 5th Column.

    by voltayre on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 03:55:20 PM PST

  •  Scaling Down (none)
    How well does this technology scale down?  It's obvious that most communities are not wanting a copy of the worlds tallest structure in their backyards.

    Otherwise, sheeesh!  Looks like the oil and coal companies are gonna have to wrap this thing up.  Otherwise, they are gonna take a serious hit come about 3 years from now.  I'd consider shorting their stock myself.

    Embrace diversity. Not everyone is intelligent.

    by FLDemJax on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:14:44 PM PST

  •  Big Problem (none)
    While I thoroughly support the use of solar power (and all renewables) and just helped a solar cell manufacturing plant complete a $75 million expansion here, this particular technology has way to many flaws to make it effective.  The first being efficiency, as we all should know, significant power loss occurs over long distance electric line hauls, thus making a centralized location for these impossible.  Second, the real estate requirement is quite enormous for most populated areas (it would be almost impossible to secure that kind of land at any reasonable cost.  And third, other renewables will work better (solar cells, wind, micro-hydro), as they allow for easy distribution.  Finally, I still think we need to foster a good nuclear power plant expansion program here.
  •  Awesome (none)
    Shout it from the rooftops.  Make the cause of energy independence via solar towers America's Declaration of Energy Independence.
  •  Electric slide?? not quite (4.00)
    For those who think electricity can be transmitted over long distances with relative ease, think again. All you have to do is look at last couple of years and see the blackouts  and brownouts on both coasts and rcognize that the money needed to update that infrastructure is gonna be a nice chunk of change.

    For those who think you could just plunk down these plants in AZ or NM need to look at a topography map of the region. You could find room for 2-5 of these things tops, and likely that it would be the lower edge of that range.

    In Australia it could make sense as supplement to peak period production.

    Energy self sufficency will take using every "alternative" production manner(wind, water, wave, solar, pebble bed nuclear) using "market enhancements"(subsidies) to help increase productivity, but there's an interesting idea:
    Processing garbage into light sweet crude oil.

    If LSC is gonna stay above the $40 a barrel range, this technology will be profitable, ensure U.S. energy independence and be beneficial for the enviornment

    Changing World

    garbage to black gold

  •  I am no expert on this topic (none)
    but I wonder if Non-imaging optics could be combined with or mated to a modification of this concept?

    For example, if the air at the base is heated to higher temperatures, then the height of the chimney can be less and still achieve the same thermal gradient...

    The only way to ensure a free press is to own one

    by RedDan on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:51:17 PM PST

    •  Could this tower be mated with solar panels? (none)
      Would it be possible to not only absorb the heat from thermal pollution, but also the incoming solar energy, in one plant?  Maybe that's stretching the capabilities of what can be made, and it wouldn't help to smooth the daytime vrs. nighttime productions or energy storage, but might that be possible to make it an even stronger supplement to oil/gas/coal/nuclear power?

      "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

      by The Peanut Gallery on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:12:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Scale and impact (4.00)
    Hey Toque--Good diary. Provocative. And..it strikes me as...cough..good news on the environment.

    Whenever energy issues come up I am torn between wanting to support non-polluting energy (like solar and wind) and wanting to make sure that in an effort to not pollute the air and water (with carbon-based energy) or threaten to kill off humankind (with nuclear) that we destroy the landscape with large-scale energy projects.

    Yes, to some "the landscape" may seem trivial, but it is as much a part of the environment as our air or water.

    Projects like this that might logically be located in our most remote deserts---Utah, Arizona, etc--would inevitably transform them from the unique and fragile wilderness areas that they are into industrial zones.

    I think there are appropriate places for this kind of thing. My preference is to locate energy production as close as possible to energy users. That is not only more efficient, but it makes the environmental cost--whether in the form of air pollution, water pollution, toxic waste, or visual blight--all the more apparent and appropriately factored into the decision as to whether or not to locate the facility in a particular place.

    This is an issue that is coming up more and more with respect to wind energy. I have lived in two places where wind farms have been proposed. In one---upstate New York---relatively small scale, dispersed wind generators have been erected on hilly farmland. For the most part this has worked well, because the visual impact is moderate (though not inconsequential) and locl farmers have benefited financially on land that it is hard to make a living off of.

    In the second case, on Cape Cod, where I now live, a huge wind farm is being proposed just a couple miles offshore. The visual impact of these hundreds of huge towers would be overwhelming. It's the kind of industrialization of the landscape that is just not appropriate. (On the other hand, if these same towers were proposed for the already industrialized Boston Harbor--right next to millions of energy users--- it would be much more logical.)

    A tough issue for us all to grapple with. The first thing we should do, of course, is embark on a national campaign of energy conservation. But in addition to that we have to commit to non-polluting, low impact energy generation.

    On this small earth there is no place that is far enough away to be truly "away".

    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:56:25 PM PST

    •  wind mill farms (none)
      also look awful, if you have hundreds of them grouped in farms. Nothern part of Germany near the North Sea has lots of them and it impacts the landscape quite a bit. I think they are useful for farmland areas that are thinly populated. I wouldn't mess up a site like Martha's Vineyard with them though, at least not in the neighborhood of small towns and villages.

      Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

      by mimi on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:57:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Make it into a stationary thunderstorm (4.00)
    Somebody mentioned the idea of doing this over the ocean, which is a bad idea because water is a bad absorber of sunlight. However, you could do something interesting by mixing water and absorptive material in the right combination. For example, if you have a few million acre-feet of water to play with, you could soak the soil underneath the dome and let all the water use the energy to evaporate. That keeps the internal temperature lower, reducing heat loss through the glass. As the moisture-laden air rises through the tower, it cools and the water vapor condenses, releasing more heat, which drives the air upward even faster. The whole thing shoots upward with much violence, producing a thunderstorm -- but we throttle that violence with our turbines.

    The big arguement against this idea is that the water vapor would be released as a big cloud, which would partially obscure the glass underneath. It would also generate all sorts of interesting weather downwind. If you did this with seawater, you would build up lots of salt underneath the dome and plenty of fresh water downwing. Sort of like a huge desalination plant that also generates energy.

    Actually, however, this really isn't an artificial thunderstorm; a thunderstorm is a one-shot event. This is more accurately termed an artificial hurricane.

  •  Just a small correction... (4.00)
    ...none of these technologies are "zero" emission programs that I have ever seen. HOWEVER, they are damn low compared to anything we have now. I say this because they need to be manufactured and that manufacturing process and transport to the location is not emission free. Those manufacturing processes require oil as do the transportation systems. However, over the life time of the generator, it's so low compared to what we use now, it simply can't be ignored.

    As for the footprint, I think projects like this would be great projects for industrial areas where steel mills and other industries have long since gone out of business and the area is just a polluted wasteland. They offer large tracts of land that would probably be improved by such projects, so it could also serve as a land reclamation project.

    Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. -Tom Paine

    by Alumbrados on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:04:35 PM PST

  •  For Further Reading, Try This Book (none)
    Power To The People

    Written by an economist, but still a great read (and a great Title).

    My informants tell me Bush will invite the author to the White House as soon as he can pronounce his name correctly (the author's name, not his own).

  •  Problems with solar (none)
    200MW is not continuous...people draw power off the grid more or less continuously, and energy storage and retrieval is not part of this proposal...It would just replace other power generation means when it was active.

    I think a cool thing about this idea is it could be used to harvest thermal pollution in general...waste heat generated by all sorts of processes (including traditional power generation) could be funneled up through one of those chimneys and harvested...hoist one of these over an entire manufacturing complex for instance.

    Anyway, it's neat, and we'll see how it works out. I think there are opportunities in combining all sorts of things into a single site.

    Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

    by peeder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:33:41 PM PST

    •  i.e. this statement is false: (none)
      If we build 1,000 of these plants, it would cover all residential power consumption in the US. 3,000 would cover ALL US power consumption. If that sounds like a lot, consider that currently, according to a tedious Google search, there appears to be over 6,000 power plants in the US.

      You might be able to knock off at most 20-30% of these non-solar power plants with a well-placed collection of solar installations, unless you have a companion proposal for energy storage and retrieval (and factor in its efficiency).

      When there is a business case to be made, people go ahead and build these businesses. It's not illegal to build solar power plants as far as I can tell. It's probably less encumbered with red tape than other kinds of power plants. So if someone has a truly excellent solution, the transition in the market will be quite prompt.

      Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

      by peeder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:39:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not really (none)
        Motorola leraned painfully that having a good product is not the ONLY thing needed to have commercial success.

        There are good business cases for wind farms, yet their owners (energy co's) won't release them to avoid having them cannibalize their main product's market share.

        A diary here last week was showing how GM wants to destroy it's 1,000 eletric cars, rather tahn sell them...

        In the future people will wonder why most didn't challenge Bush's excesses
        The truth? Complacency was easier

        by lawnorder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:50:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  We simply cannot rely on business to solve the (none)
        energy problem.

        There is too much money to be made on the reality of Hubbert's peak. Decreased demand and increased supply means more profit. It is immoral for corporations to sacrifice profit for social well being. Major power players will not invest, and will squash anything that will hurt their profit.

        Also power companies are making money in each phase of their business model: extraction, shipping, refining, distribution, wholesale and retail.

        Regarding regulation and red tape, you should take a look at the regulations for governmental investment and usage of alternative energy. It is nothing short of absolute evisceration of any positive technology.  

        Just like any other great idea and great industry, it will take massive social investment, and massive governmental determination.

    •  No this statement is false (none)
      200MW is not continuous...people draw power off the grid more or less continuously, and energy storage and retrieval is not part of this proposal...It would just replace other power generation means when it was active.

      Actually, people draw off the grid much more during peak time: the day. Second, this power plant generates power continuously. This is because the heat is stored in the ground beneath the collection area. This effectively turns the ground into a battery that keeps on going all night long.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:36:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  How much space does it take ? (none)
    If we build 3,000 how much area will it cover ?

    In the future people will wonder why most didn't challenge Bush's excesses
    The truth? Complacency was easier

    by lawnorder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:45:08 PM PST

    •  A lot (none)

      About 30,000 square miles. This is 1/20th the size of Texas. But keep in mind, beneath the glass area a greenhouse thrives. So you can easily look at it as 30,000 SM of farmland.

      I know it sounds like a lot, but that's mostly cause we're talking on a national scale. 6,000 coal-fired power plants sounds like a lot too. But that's what we got.

      Consider the US is a couple million square miles and it doesn't seem so much.

      But we don't need to build 3000. If we just built 500 for a meager 250 billion, we could power the whole of southern Ca and the south west.

      Personally though, I would have no problem turning Texas into one giant solar tower array.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:52:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Heat Pipe Technology (none)
    A traditional heat pipe is a hollow cylinder filled with a vaporizable liquid.

    A. Heat is absorbed in the evaporating section.

    B. Fluid boils to vapor phase.

    C. Heat is released from the upper part of cylinder to the environment; vapor condenses to liquid phase.

    D. Liquid returns by gravity to the lower part of cylinder (evaporating section).

    This technology was patented in the 1980s and has been in use in the US residentially and commercially in air conditioning and dehumidification. Sound very similar, and it does work quite well. It's brilliant!!!

    The personal is the political.

    by sawcielackey on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:47:12 PM PST

  •  Couldn't you just put one (none)
    on top of the Senate? Once a day someone opens the door, throws in the word "librul" and shuts it real  quick. In fact, under this plan no more Democratic senators are needed. With the tax break, libruls could afford to pay a visit to the WH Ranch just like all the red staters do now and...

    ...okay, Imma gonna go gouge my eyes out now.

  •  Ignorant question: (none)
    Wouldn't the "problem" of the base being too wide and the tower too large for some countries to support be solved by simply making smaller, less powerful plants?

    "For all his flaws...I have yet to see any Democrat that I trust more, or who has taken more shit without flinching." - Wintermule on John Kerry

    by OxyLiberal on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:20:01 PM PST

  •  The cost claims surprise me (none)
    If they are right that it can be built for half a billion and if it can smooth the night to day fluctuations in output, I would be deeply impressed, because the electricity would be cheap.  Cheaper than coal, and cheaper than nuclear (which is cheap).

    But I don't understand the wired article you pointed to. They say the power is cheap (and it is from the  numbers you gave), yet they say they will need government subsidies because no investors will be attracted to the idea. If their numbers are right, then I would love to invest! I figure it will produce power at below 2 cents per kw-hr, which I can resell for 3 for 4.  Where do I sign up? And will they guarantee their cost estimates?

    And the article says Thanks to banks of solar cells, the tower stores heat during the day, allowing it to produce electricity continuously., which is nonsense. Solar cells? Store heat? huh? Solar cells convert light to electricity, at considerable expense.  

    Very interesting idea that has been around for a while, but I think the numbers are optimistic, and I would like to see some rigorous cost estimates of the price of the electricity produced.

  •  WOW! (none)
    Great post

    I am a man without a Nation, without a voice... BushsAmerica

    by Ioo on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:24:38 PM PST

  •  Unlimited New Energy from Sun and Water (none)
    Unlimited New Energy from Sun and Water
    http://positivenews.org.uk/cgi/zyview.pl/D=articles/V=story/R=1234

    A revolutionary new way of harnessing the power of the sun to extract almost unlimited energy from water will be a reality within seven years.

    "It would be the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant energy source ever developed," say scientists from Australia's University of New South Wales. "The main by-products would be oxygen and water."

    Special titanium oxide ceramics will harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel. The researchers say it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make a device with no moving parts to harvest the energy; and it will give off no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

    "This is potentially huge, with a market the size of all the existing markets for coal, oil and gas combined," says Professor Janusz Nowotny who, with Professor Chris Sorrell, is leading a solar hydrogen research project at the University's Centre for Materials and Energy Conversion. The team is thought to be the most advanced in developing the cheap, light-sensitive materials that will be the basis of the new technology.

    Chris Sorrell says Australia is ideally placed to take advantage of the enormous potential of this new technology: "We've abundant sunlight, huge re-serves of titanium. But this technology could be used anywhere in the world. It's been the dream of many people for a long time to develop it and it's exciting to know that it is now within such close reach."

    Although existing hydrogen fuel cell technology is more efficient than the internal combustion engine and dramatically cuts down vehicle emissions, currently hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel, so that it still gives off greenhouse gases. This new process would cut out these emissions.

    In Britain, a team of scientists at Leeds University have developed an-other process that enables hydrogen to be produced from vegetable oils, so cars could in future have a tank of sun-flower oil that would be converted into hydrogen to power the fuel cell motor.

    Meanwhile, in Scotland, the world's first commercial-scale floating Wave Energy Converter, The Pelamis, has successfully generated its first electricity for the UK grid.

    In the US over 350 bankers and investors met to explore the state of financing for renewable energy in America. The American Council on Renewable Energy and Euromoney was completely oversubscribed. "It's great to see renewable energy entering the mainstream," said the organizers.

    "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~Martin Luther King, Jr

    by SarahLee on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:42:11 PM PST

  •  So... (none)
    what's the catch?

    Why aren't we building them already?

    Oh. Wait. Heh. Silly me. Never mind.

    Rage, rage, against the lying of the Right.

    by Maryscott OConnor on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:48:14 PM PST

  •  toque, this is awesome, thanks (none)
    coolness... this may even beat my favorite, solar-to-hydrogen dreams.

    I think I've heard of this... maybe on dkos... maybe from you, in fact... but the picture made it click.

  •  Solar Cell Collector Sites (none)
    Roof the federal highway system and mount collectors overhead, run transmission lines along the highways.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 06:54:26 PM PST

  •  check the little video at (none)
    explanatory article and your illustrative video you can play at

    http://www.enviromission.com.au/intro.htm

    So, it's a giant greenhouse taking up some 19-20 square miles based on my old A= pi*(radius squared) days.

    And the stack is awfully high - 1000 meters tall compared to 400+ something for the Empire State Building.  

    It would awfully tough to build around an urban area - but it might have its niche in sparsely populated regions.  (Maybe the people would move out to the new plant, and make the urban areas a little less urban and a little less polluted).  

    •  Move out there? (none)
      One, it is meant to be out in the middle of nowhere; two, it doesn't look like it needs many people to run it.

      Both sound like a big plus.

      Perhaps there will people who will want to live next to it so they can worship it. ;-)

      I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. - Susan B. Anthony

      by BuckMulligan on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 11:07:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some of you might like to check this out (none)
    SHEC labs claims to be able to split hydrogen at less than 1000 degrees c.

    I have not checked them out in the last year or so, but check them out.

  •  This is wonderful news. (none)
      Now if only some rich greedy power mongers would step out of the way so we can get this thing moving.

     Let's try some reverance for the earth for a change from these bible thumpin' power mad money grubbers. What would Jesus do?

    People vote for sunshine, not for gloom and doom!

    by missliberties on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:26:30 PM PST

  •  looks great, if (4.00)
    a little over the top!

    the greenhouse microclimate really appeals. there could be a whole industry of organic pineapple, papaya etc for juicing and drying which would provide employment and sustenance for locals.

    perhaps cities could be built around a plant, with the tropical gardens ringing the power plant and raising air quality and enhancing green parks interspacing with residents. the one green acre for every one paved over.

    i was making enqiries about pv panelling my house in italy yesterday. long chat with the vendor, who was just back from trade fairs in spain and germany, where he'd done great business, as the governments in those countries had legislated that the energy companies have to pay money, not credits, for juice fed into the grid by citizens' panels.

    right now in italy they will run your meter backwards when you provide more than you use, but no money. the pols are lobbied into submission and the law is crawling in a stymied circle.

    good news: the same rig i would have paid $40,000 for three years ago will now cost me 30% less, about E7000 per kilowatt.

    bad news: the supply line from japan is lagging 6 months from order to delivery, because of the huge upsurge of orders since spain and germany changed their laws.

    if the new law comes in it will take 5-6 years to amortize the costs; right now it's much more, though of course 'if' oil and gas continue to rise the ratios cound change significantly.

    the government had a program called '10,000 rooves' repaying up to 70% of an individual's capital outlay, but that is in abeyance, and the chances of your rebate coming through were proportional to how little you asked for: if you asked the full 70%
    you rarely got anything, whereas if you asked for 10% it was much more likely.

    typical half-lottery, half who-you-know bullshit that really stains this beautiful country....

    i have been following the 'progress' of the sadly underfunded ocean thermal temperature generator project in kona hawaii.

    that was a jewel of a model for similar synergy as you describe for this humungous tower, in that the cold water coming up from the depths was providing cool secondary uses like nori seaweed and spirulina farms, and even oysters, iirc.

    the energy conundrum will follow the internet-p2p model, i think, because gridloss and terrorist vulnerability is reduced by networking many small interdependent nodes, rather than putting all the eggs in one basket, so to speak.

    i see this idea as vastly preferable to nuclear, but still too centralised, unless whole ecosystems/cities could 'colonise' around them in hitherto unlivable places (for those not aborigines).

    australia would be perfect, as would china, and much of the w. usa and mexico.

    less unused room in europe.

    much, much better to 'small is beautiful' it and make every home share in giving and recieving to and from the grid, as long as we need a grid at all.

    thanks for continuing to bring this energy issue to us, it really IS  the MAJOR KEY to a better, more peaceful and prosperous world, imo.

    you say divergence, I say parallel

    by melo on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 07:35:25 PM PST

  •  So how much money have we spent (none)
    "securing" energy supplies in Iraq?
  •  After the economy has crashed (none)
    and the price of oil has skyrocketed past $100 a barrel (sometime in the next decade) we'll be buying this technology from the Aussies.

    Just not at rate prices.

  •  Interesting (none)
    Good diary.

    I read not too long ago that there is enough wind power blowing through the Rocky Mountains to power the entire United States.

    It is now at the point with all of the new technologies (and old) that political corruption is the ONLY excuse for the lack of progress in breaking our country from it's pathetic dependence on foreign oil and other primitive fuels... It's disgusting and embarrassing.

  •  Interested in these kind of technologies? (none)
    Check out WorldChanging.com.

    I read it daily and love it.

    Disclaimer: am not affiliated with them, just a fan.

  •  My God (none)
    It's brilliant. It's amazing how stupid you feel when you see such simple and brilliant ideas like this.
  •  Solar Chimney concept (none)
    I think it's neat to see this concept being implemented. It's an idea they have been working on here at UF for quite a while. Many years ago I even produced a short animation clip for them that made it to our local news.

    http://seecl.mae.ufl.edu/solar/chimney.html

  •  seems that the tower is too tall and wide (none)
    to build hundreds of them. 200 000 homes isn't much for a city of 12 000 000 million. You would need 60 towers in one capital city. If they are 1 km high, they would be so dominating the landscape that I don't think people would accept them. Also easy targets for attacks.

    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

    by mimi on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:17:06 PM PST

    •  ok I mean 12 million (none)
      ie 12 000 000, not 12 000 000 millions. hey...

      Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

      by mimi on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:27:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  fair point (none)
      but even if we built enough to produce even say 25% of US consumption, we'd be doing a great deal to help ourselves, and our children, and their children.

      this overall discussion is yet another example of the great things pushed, pulled and unearthed on the blogosphere!  

      I blog here (music) because man cannot live on politics alone!

      by jdavidson2 on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:29:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I still think the key is (4.00)
        to build completely energy self-sustaining housing units through a combination of solar-, wind- and waste-using gas generating units.

        The smaller and the more distributed and the more independent from each other these energy producing units are the better, IMO.

        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

        by mimi on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:43:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i like that too (none)
          and its something folks can do on their without waiting for the government (if affordable).

          I think Maryland has tax breaks for people using solar panels.  It'd be a great project to start lobbying each state to give a tax break to  homeowners who use solar, wind, etc for all or part of their home's power.

          I blog here (music) because man cannot live on politics alone!

          by jdavidson2 on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:57:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If there were a will - there would be a way (none)
            to develop distributed self-sustaining energy producing units for small groups of households.

            That would also mean that houses are built and designed by the individual owners of the lots and not set up prefabricated by land development and housing development corporations, who have motivated by other interests.

            Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

            by mimi on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 04:07:43 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I agree (none)
          eventually.

          But we're almost out of time. We could literally build a thousand of these things in 10 years and almost instantly pull 30% of the country off coal. As I said above, I can't think of a better use for Texas.

          Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

          by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 11:05:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  may be - as the bible says :-) - there is a (none)
            time and a place for everything eventually. If the place is supposed to be Texas, and the Texans can't wait for better solutions - well - whatever suits a Texan ... suits a Texan.

            Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

            by mimi on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 04:01:29 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Do you live on top of your current power plant? (none)
      What makes you think that our energy transmission abilities are going to be such that these things are going to have to be lined up right across the Hudson River to power New York City?  Are we somehow going to forget how to move energy from one place to another?

      If there is no left, the center cannot hold.

      by JAS1001 on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 12:44:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yeah, may be we should forget it (none)
        everything is segregated in this concepts and like everything else you spent more money moving energy and people around instead of building integrated living areas, where work, commerce and living areas are not senselessly separated from each other.

        If you develops smartly enough and not as cheap as possible, you can build communities, where you can work and live and produce all in the same neighborhoods, I think.

        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

        by mimi on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 04:14:13 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  don't like the tower (none)
    I think it's not a solution at all, I actually ask myself if it's a joke.

    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

    by mimi on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 08:29:04 PM PST

  •  I Think ... (none)
    I think that before this is hailed "The Answer" a detailed engineering study, based on real-world experience gained by operating a pilot plant, is in order.

    It sure as hell looks interesting ... and even as if it'll work ... but no one is going to even think about building, say, a dozen of these things until a pilot has been opertaing for at least a decade; it's only from field experience that the actual operating parameters can be learned. Theory only goes so far, especially when you're talking about "units" that cost half a billion each.

  •  nice... (none)
    Anyone know how a soon-to-graduate chemical engineering student like me could use this as an avenue to enter the professional world?  I need a job and I want to start as close to late May/early June as possible...

    "George was very much in the 'cool' group, and it seemed to me that he wasn't that interested in those who weren't"--Robert P. Marshall

    by BlueEngineerInOhio on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 09:35:38 PM PST

  •  I Don't Know (none)
    I have few rivals when it comes to support of clean energy.  But I am very skeptical of this.

    The tallest structures in the world?!  Yes, the physics probably work.  And I guess you could probably build a chain to the moon to harness its energy too.  But: 1) I think it is just too big for it to be commercial; and 2) we don't need it.

    350 Megawatts of Concetrating Solar Power have been operating in the California desert since the late 1980s.  The plants are generally a series of troughs that focus heat on pipes with water running through them.  This turns the water to steam, which turns a generator.   The plants have an impressive record of operations.  But their cost was high because they were the first ones.

    There is a proposal out there to have U.S. utilities buy 1000 Megawatts of this type of plant to bring the cost down.  Dividing the high cost over 10s of millions of people makes the development cost low for everyone.  One of the groups championing this idea is the Western Governors Assn.  There are huge swaths of land in CA, NV, NM, AZ, and TX that are ideal for this technology.  

    What we need is a finance plan to create the economies of scale for Concentrating Solar Power despite the disinterest from the federal government.

    Bottom Line: Let's finance a proven thing.  And let's figure out a way to do it without W.

    Paul Robbins
    Austin,. TX

    •  Pics of CSP / links / Plus: RMI (none)
      Pics of said energy source:

      http://www.eere.energy.gov/solar/csp.html
      http://www.nrel.gov/csp/

      RMI = absolute front-runner in innovative alternative energy in the US. Since 1982. A wealth of projects... such as a hybrid engine car. http://www.rmi.org

      Bonus: the Apollo Alliance. http://www.apolloalliance.org/

      How can we support the above two orgs? Make sure your friends know about them, at least.

      Reframing the news and people's views of our world: http://www.HeroicStories.com

      by AllisonInSeattle on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:18:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Proven Thing? (none)
      The smaller Solar Tower that was operating in Spain, the prototype if you will, worked just fine and produced 50Kw/hr.  It was only abandoned because they believed that the price of oil would go down in the 1980's (and it did), but they were too shortsighted to realize that oil prices wouldn't stay down, and we'd eventually need alternatives.

      Honestly, I think about 90% of the posts in this thread shooting this thing down are by people who haven't read all the related articles and literature.

      If there is no left, the center cannot hold.

      by JAS1001 on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 12:25:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, the only problems (none)
    Are that it'll cost about a billion dollars to build and the engineering to build a structure of that size aren't really completed and their effect on the atmosphere aren't known and they're semi horrifying physically. But yeah, it pretty much boils down to cost.

    I suspect we're better off looking at geological carbon sequestration if we're looking for magic fixes.

    •  Let's see (none)
      Wrong, wrong, not really, and don't be scared.

      About 500 mil, greenlighted by 2 world class engineering firms, the air coming out the top is about 86 degrees F so it's impact on the atmosphere is less than negligable.

      But your right, its a big mofo.

      Howard Dean: The Democrat's last chance...

      by TocqueDeville on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 11:27:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  500 mil - 750 mil (none)
        It'll cost about a billion dollars. The estimate is 500 to 750 mil and it's new engineering. Thus wild cost overruns should be expected.

        A kilometer up the atmosphere is a good bit different and well below 86 degrees. Unless you're an atmospheric scientist and have done the modeling don't tell me you know the effect will be negligible. My expectation is that it will do some funky stuff we'd be hard pressed to predict. And I've had some training in the field.

    •  Coal-fired power plant: @$750m (none)
      According to the Wired articles where the Solar Tower costs were discussed.  Not including the cost of extracting, processing and transporting the coal on a continual basis, and the cost in environmental damage in mining the coal and burning it, and the much larger work force needed (the Solar Tower in AU will have a 50-person staff, estimated, but two-thirds of that will be for tourism, not operation of the plant.)

      If there is no left, the center cannot hold.

      by JAS1001 on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 12:28:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  if the invisible hand actually worked... (none)
    this would have been done years ago. i truly don't understand the shortsightedness of today's American capitalists. have just a slight bit of vision and sink REAL money into alternative energy sources - and this one looks pretty damn sweet - and everything is cool.

    how do we get those people to understand before it's too late?

  •  Photovoltaic cells (none)
    are also becoming astoundingly efficient and cheap, close to the cost per kw of "conventional" generation methods (and that's without the subsidies said "conventional" methods receive.)
    Transmission still remains a problem, along with storage.

    News is what powerful people don't want you to hear. Everything else is publicity.-Bill Moyers

    by jazzmaniac on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:17:43 PM PST

  •  Hooray! Someone actually diaried this! (none)
    I commented on this very technology some time ago.  I agree with those who say that this tower and others like it won't solve all of our energy problems... but there are still greater efficiency gains to be made that remain the single greatest new "source" of energy.

    A combination strategy is essential to a green energy future.  Wind, PV, passive solar design, solar chimnies like this one... and if we stop subsidizing coal, oil and nuclear fission, we can put the money into incentives for those technologies AND into continued research on nuclear fusion.

    That's the kind of nuclear power I can get behind.  The fuel is pure hydrogen, the "spent fuel" is helium, and it would generate huge amounts of energy - at least four times as much per mass unit of fuel as a fission reactor.  If we were serious about saving our bacon, R&D for fusion would have received all the nuclear subsidies currently going to fission.

    That will tide us over until we can find a way to generate enough antimatter to start using that in power plants... (I kid, this is not a plausible scenario)

    "Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles." --Luke 1:52

    by Scarpia on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:32:11 PM PST

  •  Hard to imagine that the solution (none)
    (hmmm, what are the unforeseen consequences?) to our problems is

    more hot air.

    Remarkable.

    "Too many policemen, no liberty; Too many soldiers, no peace; Too many lawyers, no justice." Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

    by ogre on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 10:49:39 PM PST

  •  For those curious about life w/o energy (none)
    I pimp my latest diary

    Juice! A non partisan view of life in 2027, after TSHTF

    The night was cold and damp, like late winter nights in Manhattan have been for decades. Times Square shined and flickered, the brightest point of the city, even today. The air was dense with smoke from the  myriad of fires that were lending their brightness to the Square, just like neon lights used to do before TSHTF and the city ran out of Juice.

    Rolf stopped at the nearest street vendor and browsed: cigarettes, a hairbrush, deodorant and some food cans. "Maybe Lynn will like the hairbrush", thought Ron, her last one had been sold to the subs last year, when Pa had pneumonia and couldn't work pedaling for Juice.

        * "How much for the brush ?"
        * "Just one matchbox, brotha, cheapest around!"

    One matchbox! He had hoped to do a better trade, perhaps just a lump or two, but a whole matchbox ?!?

        * "Do I look like a sub to you ?". "I'll give you two lumps and 3 matches for it."
        * "Two lumps of coal and 5 matches. Sorry, brotha, it's the best I can do."

    In a city that the cavemen offspring built with their mastery of energy and power, fire was again a matter of life and death.

    In the future people will wonder why most didn't challenge Bush's excesses
    The truth? Complacency was easier

    by lawnorder on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 11:16:00 PM PST

  •  Unintended consequences (none)
    In addition to the engineering and land-use issues raised above, I'm concerned about the environmental impact on the atmosphere and weather patterns.

    This technology takes the rather gentle thermal updraft generated by, say, 17 square miles of desert and turns it into a focused column of hot air moving upwards at high velocity.  The company proposing this scheme asserts that the air velocity would be on the order of 15m/s (34mph), which would emerge from a cylindrical tower 3km (9843 feet) tall.

    Frankly, this sounds like a prime candidate for the law of unintended consequences.  

    I'd be very surprised if the exit velocity from the stack were as low as the claimed 15m/s.  Even if we assume for a moment that the figure given is correct, we are still taking the heat energy from 17 mi^2 of solar impact and very efficiently dumping it into the atmosphere at 10,000 feet altitude above ground level, as a column of air with significant vertical velocity.

    Sure, compared to coal, this sucks less -- but I'm concerned that if put into practice on a large scale, this technology could drive significant changes in weather patterns.  Put another way, changing the position and vector of an energy input into a dynamic system will have an impact on the behavior of that system.

    The SF novelist in me is shouting "100 of these in the Southwest == (tornadoes in Maine && rainstorms over the Mojave desert)"...  Great cautionary-tale story idea, but this is, ultimately, not something I'd like to see built in my part of the world.

    One more thought: this also has the potential to significantly disrupt jet transport (passenger & cargo) at higher altitude.  You think we have issues with turbulence now?  Wait until you have to fly across an area occupied by 50 of these operating at night off of residual heat...

    -AG

    I'm a pro-gun, pro-nuclear-power Reform Democrat.
    Anybody got a problem with that?

    by AlphaGeek on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 11:55:41 PM PST

    •  I think you make sure that (none)
      the "SF novelist" in you sticks to the sci-fi business, frankly.

      One of these has already been operated on a somewhat smaller scale in Spain, 20 years ago.  The Australians working on this version have gone through three phases of feasibility and impact studies (yes, environmental impact was a large part of that.)

      You're quite a ways off on the height of the tower as well.  It will be exactly 1,000 meters (1 Km) tall.

      The air in the chimney is shown in the video provided by EnviroMission to cool as it rises.  The air coming out of the top of the chimney is projected to be approximately 20 degrees celsius.

      I said it in a post above, and I wish I could say it to (almost) every single negative poster in this diary.  Please, review the literature and materials if you're going to put this much effort into trying to debunk something.  Your sci-fi Solar Chimney of Doom is strictly sci-fi, not reality.

      If there is no left, the center cannot hold.

      by JAS1001 on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 12:40:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dude (none)
        None of us know really. New technology pretty much always has some degree of unintended consequences. And the atmosphere goes into the category of dynamical systems which are poorly understood.

        It's likely that solar chimneys on the whole would be much better than coal-burning plants but it doesn't mean they;d be magical, perfect, and without harm.

  •  I've got the perfect place to build these bad boys (none)
    West Texas - plenty of sunshine, no chance of earthquakes or other natural disasters. Land as far as the eye can see.

    Yessir, I say we build one right next to Midland.

    Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

    by JimTXDem on Wed Mar 02, 2005 at 01:42:05 AM PST

  •  I think that the moral of the story... (none)
    after this discussion is that one shouldn't be quick to jump on any one "silver bullet" technology before it's really been tried out.  I mean they're building the very first one of these solar towers and already you're talking about building 3000 of them in the US?  

    This has been a great discussion and I think people have worked out what's good and not so good about this thing.  Of course, we won't really know till we see what experience the Australians have operating the first example.  So the bottom line is, it's pretty cool, and might be a great thing to set up in certain places, but isn't the answer for ending global warming.  No one thing is.

    •  Exactly (none)
      And more so - it is silver bullet thinking that is the problem.  We need energy sources that are less centralized, not more, so that a) less energy is wasted in distribution and b) the best locally available sustainable energy source can be tapped.

      Energy storage solutions (hydrogen + hydrogen cell for instance) are more likely to be a "silver bullet" because they allow diverse local energy sources to be utilized - wind where there's wind, geo-thermal where there's geo-thermal, solar where there's sun.

      This one probably has one application - the Australian desert.  Hot, big and empty.  It's just an upside down hydro plant for a place without any hydro.

  •  I hate to ask (none)
    and expose my ignorance but what is scram jet technology?  
    •  Scramjets are yet another technology that (none)
      those soulless creatures who can only think of us as cattle to be herded and slaughtered want squelched.

      (We think of ourselves as part of the human race; they think of themselves as part of a ruling dynasty.)

      Here are some scramjet snippets:

       The University of Queensland (in Australia) successfully demonstrated the world's first working scramjet engine a few years ago. Both UQ and NASA have had failed test-flights previously.

      from (I forget, but it's not important.)
      ----------

      Through our continued work with those and other relevant scientific-technical resources, we adopted a model for a scramjet operation which would use specially designed jet aircraft, which could take off and land from typical major airports or like installations. The factor of advantage gained over the present Shuttle system would be something approaching a factor of ten-fold. The ability to explore nearby space would be pushed ahead by a margin of no less than decades.

      [. . .]

      There have been four leading obstacles to progress in space exploration and related fields since the middle of the 1960s.

      First, there was the beginnings of the shut-down of a leading scientific-technological edge of the program, which began during Fiscal Year 1966-67.

      Second, has been the cultural down-shift of European culture during the recent forty years since the beginning of the "rock-drug-sex youth-counterculture" of the late 1960s and 1970s.

      Third, there has been the drive toward "globalization" which began with the 1971-72 shift, under U.S. President Nixon, as the emergence of the world's presently hopelessly bankrupt floating-exchange-rate monetary-financial system.

      Fourth, throughout, has been a frictional resistance to scientific and related progress even within centers of advanced scientific education.

      from here

      Searching scramjet (as one word) will turn up lots of pages on the subject.

  •  Waste Land, waste water treatment Dual Usage (none)
    What I haven't seen anyone mention is the fact that in every state of the union there are old mining sites and other industrial areas that no one wants to do anything with.  Such land could be (first cleaned up as needed) put to use with such plants.  This would lessen the pressure to give up good farm land (though some agricultural uses may be possible).  

    Furthermore, late stage water quality treatment plants and fish farming may in fact be very compatible with this technology, providing a means for dual land use.

  •  Great diary that elicited (none)
    a great discussion. Thanks!

    Nice to read something optimistic for a change.

    When I was a kid, I inherited boxes and boxes of "Popular Mechanics" magazines and suchlike from the 1920s and 30s. I pretty much read all of them, cover-to-cover. There used to be a gut feeling that progress was not only possible, but also naturally assurred. What happened?

  •   New report on Solar Energy (none)
    Co-op America's Solar Catalyst Group just unveiled the Solar High-Impact National Energy (SHINE) Project. The report offers a "man on the moon" vision to rapidly and dramatically transform solar energy into a job-creating, energy-security-enhancing, domestic energy source. The report outlines a ten-year plan to aggressively push solar photovoltaic (PV) over the tipping point -- making solar cost-effective for businesses, homeowners, industry, and utilities far faster than current business-as-usual trends.

    You can download a copy of the report at: http://www.solarcatalyst.com/

  •  Fusion power (none)
    Duh!  We live right next door to a HUGE Fusion plant, it is free, has tremendous power and is shielded (at least for now).  

    Not only that, it is good for the enviornment, in fact, if not for this fusion reactor, we would not have an enviornment.

  •  A neat Idea, but... (none)
    In order to come close to the current production costs of wind turbines, these dreamers have massively scaled this sucker up. It's simply too big at a 5 mile diameter - try a 1/4 mile diameter. It will raise the costs a bit, but so what - it will still be about 20 % of the production cost of electricity via photovoltaics. But it will be more expensive than current large wind turbines (which are commercially available and do work), which are about 3 to 5 cents (US, Feb 2005 currency)/kw-hr. These power towers could probably be made even more cost efficient by incorporating factories/warehouses and other operations underneath the roof.

    Anyway, will it be so bad if the price of electricity is raised by 1 or 2 cents/kw-hr above current levels to make electricity via this Tower of Power  (no golden shower needed - save that for Rethuglican psuedo journalists/govt hoes) or by "conventional" wind turbines ? That, right now, is the cost of a viable planet. And if you are not cuurently voting with your choice of electricity source, please do so. After all, there are not too many freedoms still available, so try using that one if you have the option.

    DB

  •  Should note that this was already posted (none)
    As always, really appreciate TocqueDeville's diaries and his thoughts.  Would have been right, before posting, to check.  This was posted quite recently and had a pretty good discussion (though not this big). Probably worth the second posting, but Weening ourselves off of oil from Renegade Prole deserved mention.
    •  And, in that discussion ... (none)
      I suggested that, if enough mass produced, this might be scalable to something that could be done on roof tops.  There was "A prototype solar chimney was built and tested in Manzanares (south of Madrid), by Schlaich Bergermann und Partners, the engineering consultancy founded by Professor Jörg Schlaich. The solar chimney delivered power practically uninterrupted from July 1986 to February 1989 with a peak output of 50 kW. Its collector had a diameter of 240 meters, with surface area of 46,000m2. The chimney was 10 meters in diameter and 195 meters tall."  

      Note, this is scalable.  There was a 240 meter high version.  This is huge as well, but this was a 50 kw version .... If mass produced / kit like, could there be a 10-20 meter version that could go on warehouses around the world?  That would produce some electricity in peak usage periods (eg, mid-day, hot sun ...) that would reduce requirements for major additional power plants to provide that peak power?  

      If it would be that scalable, we are avoiding all of the environmental issues of covering up 10s of square miles more of nature but are exploiting already covered up land.

      Not an advocate of "sprawl", but if doable -- this seems a potential path to reduce the environmental damage caused by that sprawl by exploiting the sprawl (shopping center, warehouse roofs) to produce energy w/in the sprawl.

      Don't forget that a current huge user of energy is the power lost in transmission of power from production to user.  If this 'scalable', then it would be having the added efficiency of producing the power 10s of feet rather than 10s (or 100s or 1000s) of miles fromt he user.  Big additional efficiency that, in essence, is equivalent to that much more power generation.

  •  A fascinating experiment (none)

    First of all, kudos to the people and governments putting A$1 billion into the effort.  If nothing else, it will certainly generate interesting science.  Unfortunately I suspect that the field of meteorology would learn the most.  

    The prototype predicts a constant wind of 35 mph near the chimney and a temperature of 35 C above ambient.  35 C above ambient temperature would be 67 C on a typical January day and 39 C on a typical July evening.  (Mildura Airport climate norms).  For some reason, the injection of hot moist air into cooler air looks like a recipe for thunderstorms, and given the area's aridity (289 mm of rain/year) there's no guarantee that the thundery weather would be attended by rain -- can you say wildfire?

  •  I bet you could farm in here (none)
    I bet you could farm the most water intensive environment hostile crops like rice in a place like this. No pollution, right? Just water and sunlight?
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