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Solar Tower of Power

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted July 12, 2007

Like most entrepreneurs, Roger Davey is a man who sees something that very few other people do. Because of it he takes risks, he works hard, and he pushes his dream down a road with no sure answers. And as with most monomaniacs, his dream will either end in the Promised Land or at the bottom of a cliff.

At the center of Davey’s starry-eyed dream is something called a solar updraft tower. It’s like the biggest smoke stack you’ve ever seen in your life times ten.

Only it doesn’t produce so much as a whisp of smoke. Not a single vapor. It’s not that kind of stack.


Because out of the towering mouth of Davey’s stack rushes nothing but hot air. Lots and lots of hot air. Enough hot air, in fact, to turn a huge turbine that can generate enough power to supply electricity to over 100,000 homes.

But Davey’s magical solar tower is not something that he dreamed up on his own. It’s even been done before, in fact, it’s based on a tower built in Spain by a German company in the 1980s.

Located in Manzanares, Spain, the original tower was designed as an alternative fuel source in the wake of the worldwide energy crunch. It was a 650-foot-tall behemoth and consistently generated 50 kilowatts of power for over seven years.

Of course, it was later mothballed as oil prices continued to fall throughout the 80s.

In the end, it seemed, the world was not quite ready for the tower.

But now all of that has changed, given the current worldwide energy squeeze.

And it’s into this new world that one Roger Davey strode.

A former stockbroker and securities dealer, Mr. Davey came across the tower in the late 80s while watching TV, and for him it was something of an epiphany. "I saw this and it just grabbed me," he later said, "It was so green and so clean, and it could be a large producer of power."

From that vision, he later became CEO of the Australian company EnviroMission (EVM–ASX) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, sort of, because the contraption of Davey’s dreams has yet to be built.

So Davey keeps plugging along. But the truth is that the tower is now closer to reality than ever before.

Mr. Davey’s tower will be much larger than its Spanish. At completion it will rise some 1,600 ft out of the Australian outback. It will be 260 feet in diameter and surrounded by a giant transparent canopy at ground level that itself will be two miles across.

In effect, it will look like a gigantic upside down funnel with a humungous tube protruding at the top.



Solar thermal tower with an updraft wind turbine.

Pilot project in Manzanares (Spain).

In practice, the hot air beneath the canopy will be heated by the sun and up the tube it will rush in a giant display of hot air rising. As it does its winds will spin an array of giant turbine generators.

And as they spin, clean, green and renewable power will flow into the power grid.

In short, it’s an interesting mix of the best of both solar and wind power working together.

It’s so interesting, in fact, that the Chinese have become quite engrossed by the idea.

You see, China is not a country that is willing to sit on its hands. It has massive power needs now and well into the future.

And it faces a big problem: Without sufficient power supplies, its amazing economic development will wither on the vine. It’s just that simple.

Because of this, the Chinese have been all over the globe attempting to secure their energy future. They’ve been to Cuba and to Venezuela. They’ve formed the Shanghai Cooperative and have become cozy with both Russia and Iran.

Simply put, there is no energy stone that the Chinese haven’t turned over.

And the solar tower is just part of that plan.

So much so that Xiang Jiang Industrial, a Shanghai developer, recently became the second largest shareholder of EnviroMission. As a result the Chinese have invested some eight million dollars in a joint venture with Davey, and plan to build and operate numerous solar towers on the Chinese mainland.

This joint venture has already applied to build a much larger version of the tower. Amazingly, it will reach almost a half a mile into the sky and generate 200 megawatts.

But the Chinese are not alone. The solar tower has also sparked interest in the U.S. As a result, solar towers may soon be springing up in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. General Electric and PPI Industries have even gotten into the act and are providing free design services to EnviroMission.

But while the future certainly looks bright for Mr. Davey at the moment, the end of the road is nowhere in sight.

It is a road, however, that is free of fossil fuels, and that is a good thing even if it’s only a small part of the greater picture.

Because at the beginning of the century, the world is poised on the edge of an energy abyss. Our demand has outstripped our supply and prices are spinning out of control as a result.

And it’s not getting any better. It’s getting worse.

In fact, our situation is so perilous that just to keep up with demand we will need to find another 18 million barrels a day out there, somewhere. That’s the equivalent of two Saudi Arabias.

But the truth is that we don’t need two more Saudi Arabias. We need guys like Roger Davey and other visionary thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

And that’s not a lot of hot air.

Good luck, Mr. Davey.

Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,

Steve Christ, Editor