The next great alternative energy scheme – a giant downdraft tower in Arizona

solar-wind-tower-240x300A Maryland company, Solar Wind Energy Inc., proposes to build a giant tower near San Luis, Arizona, located on the U.S.-Mexican border south of Yuma.

The proposed tower, essentially a hollow cylinder, is planned to be 2,250 feet tall, 1,200 feet wide at the top, and 1,500 feet wide at the bottom. This project is described by David Ferris in Forbes here with an update here. It is claimed that such a structure could generate 610 megawatt-hours of electricity, of which about 100 MWh would power the plant.

The technology is based on work done in Israel in the mid-1970s (see Wikipedia article here). The tower is supposed to work as follows: Water is sprayed into the air at the top of the tower. This causes the air to cool and drop down the tower at up to 50 mph. It exits the tower by passing through turbines which produce electricity. You can see a more detailed explanation and a short video at the website of Solar Wind Energy here.

According to the Forbes article, one tower will cost $1 billion, plus another $100 million to pipe water from the Sea of Cortez. There will also be additional costs to build a desalinization plant. Neither the Forbes articles nor the company website provide an estimate of the amount of water required.

Forbes reports that Solar Wind Energy is negotiating with the Bureau of Land Management to lease 1,700 acres of desert land near San Luis. The company hopes to have the plant built by 2018. Forbesnotes that the “project does seem farfetched, and the company’s stock is trading at a penny a share, down from a high of 32 cents two years ago.”

In the Forbes update, reporter David Ferris finally gets some answers from Solar Wind Energy president Ron W. Pickett; here is part of that article:

Where would the money come from?

Pickett said the company wouldn’t need to generate much of its own capital because it would license the technology to a project developer. The company is in talks with “a very credible, notable development company noted for its energy accomplishments,” Pickett said.

Has a scale model been built?

I was astonished to hear that the biggest physical scale model the company (or anyone else) has built is “about four feet tall,” Pickett said with a chuckle. “There’s nothing unknown, and no unknown algorithms, in this system,” he added. The company is confident in its computer-aided design models, and plans to move directly from four feet tall to 2,250 feet tall — the tallest structure ever built in North America.

I agree with Ferris: the project seems farfetched.

The project hinges on Mexico granting permission to build a pipeline across environmentally sensitive land of the Colorado River delta. This area is also an earthquake hot spot (see Arizona earthquakes, 1852-2011, a video time line), so the tower and pipeline would have to be constructed to withstand the seismic activity.

Remember these schemes?

Solar Updraft Towers, an alternate, alternative energy source

Two 2500-foot solar towers to be built in Arizona

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2 comments

  1. Jon — What about the second law of thermodynamics ? It seems to me that it would take more energy to pump water up some 2200 ft (a real feat in itself) than could be generated by that water falling back to earth to power some sort of turbines.

    1. Apparently the second law of thermodynamics does not apply to green energy. It’s magic. The claim is that such a structure could generate 610 megawatt-hours of electricity, of which about 100 MWh would power the plant.

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