Hot air, the solar power of the future

Solar power has been hailed by many to be a practical power source of the future. A recent proposal offers a different type of solar power for the future.

Photo from Creative Commons.

This alternative solar power does not make use of solar panels, but instead makes use of one of the most basic building blocks of scientific knowledge, hot air rises. Hot air could be harnessed to create a free and effective form of power. Australian entrepreneur Roger Davey wants to make use of this.

He plans to develop and build a solar thermal power generator. This would not be the first such generator created. There have been other examples of similar projects throughout the world. A solar thermal generator ran in Spain toppled in 1989 after running successfully for seven years. A similar structure has also been erected in China, and is responsible for creating 200 kw a day according to the state news agency.

A very basic explanation on how this would work is that a large tower known as an updraft tower would funnel hot air up through a number of turbines. The higher the tower, the faster the updraft and the more energy it ultimately produces. The hot air is formed in a structure at the base of the tower designed to channel and absorb the sun’s energy, and in theory, heating the air to 194 degrees F.

This type of solar power has a massive advantage over solar panels in that it does not require the sun to work. On sunny days, the same structure responsible for heating the air would also bake the ground, leaving enough residual heat to work overnight or on cloudy days, though below its peak output.

This type of power generation is one of the few aqua-friendly means of power generation. Generators such as coal and nuclear power use water. Nuclear power plants use water to keep the fuel rods cool, and coal fired-plants use water to produce steam. Even solar panel power plants use a great deal of water. The panels need to be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure the panels continue to work at optimal performance.

Solar thermal energy is not a new concept but has not been very focused on due to its price. Such power plants are several times more costly than traditional power plants or solar panel plants. However, money may be the least of our concern as we continue to run out of time using what limited oil resources we have left.