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America's tallest structure would generate power

An design image of the planned downdraft tower.

A company called Solar Wind Energy Tower wants to build the tallest structure in the United States along the border with Mexico. But it wouldn’t be your typical office-building skyscraper. This would be a massive wind tower to produce clean energy.

It would work something like this. The tower would be hollow, like a silo. Water sprayed at the top would get humid and heavy in the desert air. That should create winds up to 50-miles an hour that flow down through turbines on the ground.

“It’s a very simple process that is really using hot air and water as its sole source of power,” says Ron Pickett, CEO of Solar Wind Energy Tower. “Here we have a renewable energy that makes energy at competitive price to traditional power plants.”

He says it would cost about the same as a new natural gas-powered plant and less than nuclear. And it’s better for the environment.

“We’re zero emissions into the atmosphere,” says Pickett.

The tower would cost about a billion dollars. The company announced this week that it’s collaborating with Providence Energy to develop the tower. If all goes well, construction might begin at the end of next summer. Other wind-powered projects have already attracted funding.

“The U.S. industry just came off its strongest year ever, increasing by 28 percent,” says Peter Kelley, spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association.

He says wind energy will lower the country’s carbon footprint this year by almost two percent. And the wind power industry is expected to grow substantially.

“We’re on schedule to make 20 percent of the electricity in America by the year 2030,” says Kelley.

That’s about the amount of energy currently produced by nuclear power plants. Kelley says the wind energy industry is home-grown.

“It is a triumph of American ingenuity and technology,” says Kelley. Over the past six years, the industry has attracted an average of $18 billion per year in private money. Kelley says that’s twice the size of the proposed investment in the Keystone pipeline.

See a demonstration of how the downdraft tower would work in the video below:

Solar Wind Energy Tower Demonstration

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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OK, it's been a long time since I took thermodynamics, but I'm pretty sure that even if this system had no losses (from friction, imperfect conversion of wind to electricity) it will take all of the energy created by the turbines just to carry the water from the base to the top of the tower.
Or, as Homer Simpson put it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWxZm8WjlI8

The laws of thermodynamics apply to closed systems. In this case the Sun provides the energy to create the dry conditions that make this system possible.

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