What is solar tower technology?

News that the Perth-based renewable energy company Hyperion Energy is planning to build a solar tower in mid-west Western Australia sent your correspondent scurrying to the research files this week.

According to the company website, Hyperion have purchased a 127,000 hectare site near the town of Tuckanarra. The site is near mines and an airport and is judged to have a low risk of natural disasters such as earthquakes or cyclones. Chiefly though, the main advantage of the site for the location of a solar tower is the “horizon solar radiation of 2300MJ/m2” (read huge), according to the company.

The theory behind the solar tower technology sounds simple enough. A flat, large expanse of a greenhouse-like material is spread around the base of a tall tower. When the sun heats the air under the material it rises (remember your science?) and as such has only one place where it can go: the central solar tower (see diagram). The hot air is forced through the narrow space of the tower where it causes a wind which turns a number of turbines inside the tower.


Diagram showing how a solar tower works.

Hyperion points to three key advantages of solar tower technology over other forms of tapping the sun’s energy.

1. No cooling water is needed for the tower’s operation. This is excellent news for the sometimes parched areas where this technology is most effective.

2. Reliability. The company states that the only moving parts to the tower are the turbines and generators.

3. Baseload electricity. An inconvenient truth for the anti-renewable, shock  jock-led narks, the tower has the capacity to deliver electricity for twenty four hours of the day.

Interestingly the technology is not a recent piece of theoretical work straight from the drawing board. It has been in operation in Spain for around seven years. Indeed, according to SolarQuotes Facebook follower Carl Salat, the solar tower was even mooted in Australia in the 1980s!

The Hyperion website states that the WA solar tower isn’t a done deal yet with the company still seeking approval for the project, according to a Jan 31 article in Energy Matters. However if given the green light, construction will commence in 2014 and is expected to last for around two years.

What do you think of solar tower technology? The future or just a flash in the pan? Have your say here or over at our Facebook Page.


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