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More Than a Lot of Hot Air

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted August 29, 2006

Like most entrepreneurs Roger Davey is a man that 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 like 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 whisper of smoke. Not a single vapor. It's not that kind of stack.

Why?

Because out of the towering mouth of Davey's stack rushes nothing but hot air.

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Lots and lots of hot air. Enough hot air, in fact, to turn a huge turbine which in turn 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. And in fact, it's a redux of a tower built in Spain by a German company in the 1980's.

Located in Mazananares, 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, the world it seemed was not ready for the tower.

But given the current worldwide energy squeeze, that calculus has once again changed. And into this new world strode one Roger Davey.

A former stock broker and security dealer, Mr. Davey came across the tower in the late 80's 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 still 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.

But unlike its Spanish cousin Mr. Davey's tower will be much larger. At completion it will rise some 1,600 ft out of the Australian outback. It will be 260 ft in diameter and will be 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 from the end.

Solar thermal tower with an updraft wind turbine.

Pilot project in Manzanares (Spain).

But 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, of course, its winds will spin an array of giant turbine generators.

And when they do... clean, green, and renewable power will flow across the power grid.

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

It so interesting, in fact, that the Chinese have become quite engrossed in the idea themselves.

You see China is not one to sit on its hands. It has massive power needs now and well into the future.

And it faces a simple problem: without sufficient power supplies, their amazing economic development will wither on the vine. It's just that easy.

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 stone that the Chinese haven't turned over.

And the Solar tower is just part of that plan.

So much so that Xiang Jiang Insdustrial, a Shanghai developer, recently became the second largest shareholder of EnviroMission . And as a result the Chinese have also invested some 8 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 even applied to build 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 the interest of several in the U.S. As a result, solar towers may soon be springing up in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

GE and PPI Industries have even gotten into the act and are providing free design services to EnviroMission.

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

But it is a road, however, that is free of fossil fuels and that is a good thing.

Because at the beginning of the century we seem 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 over the long haul we will need to find another 18 million barrels a day out there, some where. That's the equivalent of 2 Saudia Arabia's.

But the truth is that we don't need 2 more Saudi Arabia's. We need just one guy like Roger Davey... and other visionary thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs like him.

And that's not a lot of hot air.

Good Luck Mr. Davey.

 

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