An Australian company, EnviroMission Limited, is blasting forward with plans to build a totally new type of clean power generating facility. Their concept consists of a monstrous tube that reaches 1000 meters (that’s 3280.84 feet) into the sky and is surrounded by a huge glass solar collector. The idea is for sunlight to hit the solar collector, warming the air below, which rises up the tower, driving a bunch of turbines to generate electricity. From the looks of their spiffy little video clip there are also plans for the tower to generate some tourism revenue as well, what with the tram taking passengers to the top. I’d sure pay for that!
It’s a great idea, what with the clean electricity that will be produced, but you’ve got to wonder what kind of unintended consequences might result from operating one, or several, of these puppies. The solar tower will basically be pumping huge volumes of air to places it wouldn’t ordinarily go. I’m no meteorologist, but it seems that doing something like that would tend to disrupt the way the weather works in the area surrounding the tower.
When I first heard of this project (through a Wired article) my first thought was of an article I read years ago about a similar concept. The earlier version also had a tall hollow tower, but instead of heating the air to make it go up, they planned to pump water up the tower and spray it as a mist into the tower at various heights. The mist would cool the air, which would cause it to descend down the tower driving wind turbines at the base. The plan was to locate the thing somewhere very dry, and the cooler, humidified air would make it possible for the land surrounding the tower to be used for farming. The article also cited opponents to the project that were concerned about the effects such a climate change in the vicinity of the tower would have in other areas. I never heard anything more about that project, so I’m guessing the critics got the best of the project.
And I’m guessing there are critics who will try to do the same with EnviroMission’s tower.