Gallery: EnviroMission Plans Massive Solar Updraft Towers for Arizona

solar power, solar energy, solar updraft, alternative energy

Australia-based EnviroMission Ltd recently announced plans to build two solar updraft towers that span hundreds of acres in La Paz County, Arizona. Solar updraft technology sounds promising enough: generate hot air with a giant greenhouse, channel the air into a chimney-like device, and let the warm wind turn a wind turbine to produce energy. The idea isn’t new — it’s been around since the mid 1980’s — but it’s only now starting to take off.

EnviroMission Ltd‘s new initiative is not a small project by any means. The towers will each have 2,400 foot chimneys over a greenhouse measuring four square miles. For some perspective, that’s nearly as tall as the recently-completed Burj Dubai structure.

There’s still plenty of work to be done before the $750 million, 200 megawatt project can begin. The Southern California Public Power Authority recently approved EnviroMission as a provider, but solar updraft hasn’t yet been proven to be commercially viable. That means EnviroMission might have trouble raising enough cash to get started. Still, we’re excited at the prospect of a new tool in our alternative energy arsenal — the more options we have, the better.

+ EnviroMission

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  1. Naem Alshammari October 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I am advisory electrical engineer Naem Alshammari from Iraq / Baghdad .
    I am the owner and general director of SOHOL ALFAIDH Co. Its speciality in renewable energy and desert agriculture projects .
    I see that the solar tower technology is ideal for Iraqi area .
    I hope we shall cooperate soon .

    Best Regards
    Advisory Electrical Engineer
    Naem Alshammari

  2. SOHOL ALFAIDH Co. October 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I am advisory electrical engineer Naem Alshammari from Iraq / Baghdad .
    I am the owner & general director of SOHOL ALFAIDH Co. Its speciality in renewable energy & desert agriculture projects .
    I see that the solar tower technology is ideal for Iraqi area .
    I hope we can cooperat soon .
    Best Regards
    Naem Alshammari

  3. ckofaz January 12, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I live in Phx as well and just for reference, Piestewa Peak’s (formely Squaw Peak) Elevation is 2,608 feet high. Its hard to fathom a building of those dementions.

  4. Bill Mothershead January 9, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I live just outside of Phoenix,

    Before getting too excited, how about building a scaled down version of
    just the “tower” to check out the durability of the design…can it survive
    a full summer’s worth of wind storms.

    Have you ever seen an Arizona monsoon dust storm? Lots of energy.

    A half mile high, self-supporting tower seems a little improbable in this environment.

  5. netdrakh January 8, 2010 at 7:03 am

    This has two similar problems to covering multi thousands of acres with photovoltaic panels:
    1) Who is going to clean the dust off the surfaces?
    2) When something falls out of the sky (rock, airplane, old satellite) things will break. Could be lots of broken stuff….

  6. wagnert in atlanta January 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    This idea was tried out in Colorado Springs, CO in the 1890’s, less the 4-square-mile greenhouse. A standard brick industrial chimney was built and a wind turbine installed in the base. The sun heating the chimney was supposed to draw air through the wind turbine and generate electricity. It didn’t work. The chimney was still standing twenty years ago.

  7. Corky Boyd January 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Something like this was proposed in the 1970’s.

    The layout was a bit different, but the turbine portion looked more like the well known wasp waisted nuclear plant cooling towers. It never went very far as the price and reliability of oil supplies got better. One of the worries was the high velocity of the heated air at the constricted portion of the tower (to drive the turbine) posed a threat to aviation.

  8. pfdietz January 7, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    There was a related idea, where seawater is sprayed into the top of a tower to cool dry air by evaporation. This induces a downdraft. The advantage is this scheme would be that no large greenhouse is required. It would only work in arid regions near oceans, however.

  9. chemman January 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Building more power plants in Arizona to provide Southern California with electricity. In this case I think NIMBY is just fine. If they don’t want to build solar plants in their deserts why should we do it for them. If we refuse to ship them electricity maybe they will join the real world and begin taking care of their own needs.

  10. beebob January 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Since about 1/3rd of the planet is desert more plans will emerge like the DII to
    look to the economic future as tied to sunnier areas. Ask, like Henry George, where
    the land is free. See the emerging undersea grid activities and techniques to
    make sand into structures. This is quite a NEW way to put ones’ head in the sand!

    North Sea countries plan vast clean energy project
    • €30bn scheme could offer weather-proof supply

    “…A North Sea grid could link into grids proposed for a much larger
    German-led plan for renewables called the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII).
    This aims to provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 or earlier…”

    Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture

  11. Bill Johnson January 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I got 10 bux says never will even one be built.

  12. astonerii January 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Urban heat islands and our over use of land is not significant enough yet, what we REALLY NEED are huge zones of pure black covering our landscapes.

  13. CodeSculptor January 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Well, the upside to the generator is that it seems to use no resources other than land and facility. There’s no fuel cost, no shipping. Sure, it’s big, and we can make smaller generators, but those smaller generators are non-renewable

  14. Larry J January 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how many environmental impact assessment hoops they’ll have to jump through. I’ve already heard environmentalists complaining about building far smaller solar energy projects in the desert. Also, $750 million does seem rather high for 200 megawatts of generating capacity, especially considering it’ll only work on sunny days. I think you could buy a lot more base power for the same investment.

  15. Mikey January 7, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Isn’t $750 million expensive for 200 megawatts of generating capacity?

  16. nonpchomer January 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Uh Huh, boy if there was ever a pie in the sky idea designed to seperate the gullible public from their tax dollars this is it.
    Your gonna cover how many acres with a “greenhouse”? Ever cover a piece of grass with some clear plastic. The grass dies.
    Do you honestly think this will ever produce enough energy to cover it’s own cost?

  17. Bruce222 January 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

    How many 1600MW reactors can you build in 4 square miles?

  18. bugmenot January 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Can the space under the greenhouse be used for growing anything? i.e. like a ‘regular’ greenhouse?

  19. DeserLeap January 7, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Since there are 640 acres in a square mile and the greenhouse is 4 square miles, this project should cover thousands, not hundreds, of acres.

    Also, it looks like the project will cost about $4 a watt, which is about what PV systems cost. Sounds a bit expensive.

  20. Les Nessman January 7, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Do we really want to litter the landscape with such ugly looking monstrosities?

  21. stumiller January 7, 2010 at 9:13 am

    It may not have proven to be viable in the sense that they haven’t built a full-scale one yet, but.. the prototype in Spain was very encouraging, and the thermodynamics and math is pretty basic — the rest is just wind-turbines at the base generating electricity. On paper, a Solar Chimney competes dollar-for-dollar with next-generation nuclear, and thus profitable without state subsidies!

  22. kalambong January 7, 2010 at 1:36 am

    The energy input to construct such a monstrous size structure — can it ever be recouped?

  23. rgbatduke January 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    This is a stupid design. I don’t mean that as a flaming comment, I mean that from a technical and engineering perspective, it is quite trivial to double the probable cost efficiency of a solar updraft project relative to this design, maybe quadruple it.

    So I suppose it is good that such a project is being built, but bad in that the design is so obviously inefficient and cumbersome compared to what is possible for solar updraft generation.

    I’m a physicist, by the way, and I’m not kidding.


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