A new wind power facility in the United States will be capable of generating electricity around the clock via the usage of artificially-induced air currents.
The new renewable energy installation, slated for construction in the Arizona desert by Solar Wind Energy, could generate wind power around the clock via recourse to a simple yet ingenious technical fix.
Contrary to expectations, the 685-metre high tower does not take advantage of its prodigious height to harvest the potential energy of high-altitude winds. Its turbines are instead situated at the very base of the installation, where it harnesses artificial winds produced at the top of the tower via the evaporation process.
The artificial wind is created by first producing a fog at the top of the tower via the dissemination of water droplets in a fine spray. The fog absorbs the heat of the surrounding air during the evaporation process, resulting in a dense, cooled air current which plunges to the bottom of the facility.
The ensuing downdraft, which could achieve speeds as high as 80 kilometres per hour, is then channeled through wind turbines situated at the base of the tower to generate electricity.
The chief virtue of the tower is that is can produce downdrafts any time of day as long as the prevailing weather conditions are warm and dry – thus the selection of San Luis, Arizona, as the site for construction of the proposed facility. This deals with the intractable dilemma of climate-based renewable energy methods – their unreliability due to dependence upon fickle weather conditions.
The concept of solar-wind towers is nothing new, with a patent for the idea for filed by Lockheed Aircraft scientist Dr. Phillip Carlson back in 1975. The potential of the technology also garnered significant public attention when it was made the subject of an article published by Popular Science in 1981.
The Arizona-based project envisaged by Maryland-based Solar Wind Energy will mark the first time, however, that the concept will be implemented on such an ambitious scale.
At 685 metres in height, the tower is expected to be one of the tallest freestanding structures in the United States. Its generation capacity of 435 megawatts on average will put it within the range of a modest-sized modern nuclear plant.
Solar Wind Energy has already succeeded in raising the approximately US$1.6 billion in capital needed to build the tower, which is expected to make its debut in Arizona by as soon as 2018.