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Australia Considers Giant Solar Power Tower

by Michelle Nichols
Reuters - January 7, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The world's tallest man-made structure could soon be towering over the Australian outback as part of a plan to capitalize on the global push for greater use of renewable energy.

By 2006, Australian power company EnviroMission Ltd hopes to build a 3,300-foot solar tower in southwest New South Wales state, a structure that would be more than twice the height of Malaysia's Petronas Towers, the world's tallest buildings.

Currently, the world's tallest free-standing structure is the Canadian National Tower in Toronto at 1,814 feet .

The 200 megawatt solar tower, which will cost A$1 billion (US$563 million) to build, will be of a similar width to a football field and will stand in the center of a massive glass roof spanning 4.3 miles in diameter.

Despite its size, the technology is simple: the sun heats air under the glass roof, which slopes upwards from a yard at its outer perimeter to 82 feet at the tower base. As the hot air rises, a powerful updraft is also created by the tower that allows air to be continually sucked through 32 turbines, which spin to generate power 24 hours a day.

"Initially people told me, 'You're a dreamer. There's no way anything that high can be built. There's no way it can work,'" EnviroMission CEO Roger Davey told Reuters. "But now we have got to the point where it's not if it can be built, but when it can be built."

EnviroMission hopes to begin construction on the solar tower before the end of the year and be generating enough electricity to supply 200,000 homes around the beginning of 2006.

The company also hopes the project will save more than 700,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year that might otherwise have been emitted through coal or oil-fired power stations.

The company has signed agreements with Australian-listed Leighton Holdings Ltd and U.S.-listed Energen Corp to determine the commercial feasibility of the solar tower, which Time Magazine recently voted among the best inventions of the year.

The tower has received the support of the Australian and New South Wales governments, which have defined it as a project of national significance. EnviroMission plans to build the tower in remote Buronga district in New South Wales. The district is near the border with Victoria state and is 15 miles northeast of Mildura town.

It will generate about 650 gigawatt hours (GWh) a year towards Australia's mandated renewable energy target, which requires electricity retailers to supply 9,500 GWh of renewable energy a year by 2010.

The Electricity Supply Association has said A$48 billion (US$27 billion) needs to be invested in electricity infrastructure during the next two decades to meet the country's growing demand. Davey said he is eager to keep the tower's costs as low as possible to ensure its success.

"We have proved that it does work and that it can be built, but what we have got to get a handle on is the cost and we are working very strongly through that now," Davey said.

The tower originally known as the solar chimney is the invention of German structural engineers Schlaich Bergerman, who constructed a 656-foot high demonstration power plant in Manzanares, Spain, in 1982. The 50 kilowatt plant produced electricity for seven years and then closed down after having proved the technology worked. Schlaich Bergerman now works with EnviroMission.

The project has already been given clearance by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia and will be fitted with high intensity obstacle lights to warn aircraft in the area.

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Michelle Nichols, Reuters
Australia Considers Giant Solar Power Tower
Reuters January 7, 2003

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