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.
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:
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.
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.