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Solar Updraft Towers

We have highlighted your search term solar updraft tower for you. If you'd like to remove the search term, click here. Solar updraft towers, also known as solar chimneys, produce electricity based on a relatively simple method of harnessing the energy of the sun to. A large plot of land is required to place a collector, in this case a membrane. This membrane is a transparent material such as glass and acts much like a greenhouse, capturing sunlight in order to harness it for energy. Sunlight penetrates this membrane, and the solar radiation is converted to heat upon hitting the ground. The air underneath the membrane quickly increases in temperature due to the greenhouse effect and flows towards the chimney, which, through the stack effect1 , becomes the lowest point of pressure in the system. This flow of air turns a turbine and produces energy.

The idea of the Solar Updraft Tower has been around since 1976, when two German engineers, Jrg Schlaich and Rudolf Bergermann, created the design. In 1979 they developed the first prototype with a designed peak output of 50 kW in Manzanares, about 100 miles south of Madrid, Spain 2 An initial analysis of this pilot plant by Haaf et. al. that economical power generation is possible with a plant designed for up to 400 MW/pk. 3 However, in more recent studies, it has been concluded that solar towers that produce greater than 100 MW are capable of generating electricity at rates comparable to other types of conventional power plants4 . Lastly, there is a solar updraft tower being developed in Australia by Enviromission Limited.

How it works
The above diagram displays the basic principles of the solar updraft tower. A low, circular transparent and translucent roof surrounds the tower at the center of the system. Air within the system is heated by solar radiation, and the collector becomes the roof and the ground,

trapping the heated air with the system. This system heats the air by way of the greenhouse effect. The tower sits in the middle of the collector and operates on the principle of hot air rising. Thus, the hot air, being lighter than cooler air in the tower, rises within the tower. An additional process that occurs within the tower is that suction is formed to bring in more air into the tower. It is this suction, based on hot air rising, which pulls air past the turbines, located at the base of the tower. The turning of the turbines produces energy. To allow the system to operate twenty four hours a day there is an additional component added in which tubes or another type of storage system is filled with water. These storage containers are placed under the roof, inside the collector, and are warmed up during the day when solar radiation is at its strongest. The heat stored in the water during the day is released at night into the surrounding air and this hot air continues the process of creating energy.

Benefits and advantages

One of the main advantages of the solar updraft tower model is the simplicity of it's design and the low maintenance costs after the system is operating. In fact, these two elements go hand in hand with regards to the main advantage of the system. This is because due to the simplicity and design of the system most of the maintenance is needed on the ground, reducing costly approaches to fixing problems high above ground. In addition, because updraft velocities in a tower only reach about 15 m/s (Haaf et. al) it is safe to enter the chamber to perform maintenance. Another benefit of solar updraft towers is that they use both direct and diffuse radiation. This allows the system to work not only in very sunny places but in places that are often overcast because the principle of the system is based on heat and not any particular spectrum of light. With the added advantage of producing continual high loads of energy at night through water storage, a solar updraft tower should be able to function as a base load power plant. Several other advantages of a solar updraft tower are listed below with brief explanations. 1. Due to it's simplicity the building materials needed are readily available in both developed and less developed countries. These materials include glass, concrete, and the turbines themselves.

2. No high tech infrastructure or manufacturing is required. 3. No cooling water is needed, an advantage in countries or locations where water supply is lacking. An alternate advantage of the solar chimney model is its application within buildings. Natural ventilation is one of the most used forms of cooling within buildings, as air is moved throughout and out of a building to promote cooling. This is done by removing the hot air within a building and allowing cooler air to take its place. When a solar chimney is instituted into a building it's natural suction can add to the movement of hot air out of a building, and thus cooling is achieved. Because the solar chimney does not require additional power sources, it is a very energy efficient way of cooling a building.

Barriers and disadvantages

There are several disadvantages to the solar updraft tower design. Perhaps the most important (aside from the cost of electricity generation, discussed later), is the intensive amount of land needed to build the collector to an appropriate scale. Not only are large, flat pieces of land required, but this land cannot be in an area prone to natural disasters or frequent bad weather. Either of these occurrences would render the tower useless due to inefficiency or malfunction. Additionally, solar updraft towers are only one tenth as efficient as solar cells in creating energy from solar radiation. It is the simplicity and relative inexpensiveness of the materials required that appear to make the system economical. Aside from the disadvantages of the solar updraft tower power plant, there are a few disadvantages when used in a building as well. Several are listed below. * A solar chimney, as a passive device, cannot generally respond to changes in the internal environment and thus it is unsuitable if control of the indoor environment is essential. * They may not sufficiently cover the cooling needs during the whole cooling period and thus alternative techniques and backup systems may be required. * Solar chimneys are more suited to open layouts or for individual rooms as the pressure loss associated with air flows between rooms will affect the total flow5 .

Electricity Costs
There are two main components to understand in terms of the cost of producing electricity through solar updraft towers. The first is based on the scale of the project, the second is based on the cost of energy production over time. 1. The research done on updraft towers points to an economy of scales based on the size of the collector and the height of the tower. To put it simply, the levelised energy cost (LEC) drops with larger collectors and higher towers. This is because the thermodynamic efficiency increases with higher towers as suction is increased and the air pulled into the tower moves faster. The cost of electricity can be cut in a third based on a system that produces 200 megawatts as compared to a system that produces 5 megawatts. Thus, the initial investment for an economically viable solar updraft system is much greater because of the large scale necessary to lover the LEC. 2. The below chart compares the electricity costs for a solar tower vs. coal fired power plant over time. As can be seen on the graph, the gap between the costs closes if one assumes the increasing costs of fossil fuels. At twenty years the electricity costs are the same, and both plants are in essence paid for. However, because the fuel cost for the solar tower is zero at this point, while the coal power plant continues to be costly, the solar tower becomes the

more economical option. Only operation and maintenance costs are required. In this analysis by Haaf et. al. it is also supposed that due to the simplicity of the solar updraft tower it will not need to be replaced in 30 years, which is often the case with fossil fuel plants.

Electricity Generation Costs for a solar tower and coal fired power plant
Source: Schlaich Bergermann . Author: Haaf et. al. . Permission: none

Examples of implementation
To this point there has not been full scale implementation of a solar updraft tower. Along with the pilot plant built by Schaif et al, there was another simulation of a pilot plant run by a group of Chinese scientists to test the power generation and cost based on different sizes of plants6 . As stated above, Enviromission, an Australian company, is actively pursuing the construction of a power plant, likely to be in the United States or Australia. Solar Updraft Towers appear to be a viable approach to harnessing solar energy, but because of large scale implementation and construction costs, there has not been a large scale plant built to this point. As fossil fuels costs continue to rise, the appeal of the solar updraft tower model should increase. Due to simple construction materials, low maintenance costs, and it's feasibility in developing countries, the promise of solar updraft towers as a way of producing energy is growing. However, until a large scale plant is built and we can analyze the as of now mostly theoretically energy generation costs, it is unlikely that solar updraft towers will become wide scale in popularity

1. 2. Chitsoomboon, Tawit and Atit Koonsrisuk. " A single dimensionless variable for solar chimney power plan modeling." Solar Energy. Volume 83, Issue 12. December 2009: 21362143

3. Haaf, W., K. Friedrich, G. Mayr, J Schlaich. "Solar Chimneys Part I: Principle and Construction of the Pilot Plant in Manzanares." International Journal of Sustainable Energy. Vol 2. Issue 1, 1983. 4. Badenwerk, AG and Energie-Versorgung Schwaben (EVS). AG (1997) "Technische und wirtschaflliche Aspeekte sure Beauteilung der Chancen von Aufwindkraftwerken." internal report. 5. Dimoudi, A. "Solar Chimneys in Buildings-The State of the Art." Advances in Building Energy Research. London: 2009. Vol 3, Issue 1. pg 21-24. 6. Zhou, Xinping, Jiakun Yang, bo Ziao, and Guoxiang Hou. "Simulation of a pilot solar chimney thermal power generating equipment." Renewable Energy 32, 2007. 1637-1644