A Perth based company plans to construct a massive solar updraft tower in the Mid-West region of Western Australia.
Hyperion Energy’s 200MW project takes a very different approach to the traditional solar farm. Instead of using arrays of solar panels or fields of heliostats to focus sunlight onto a central point, it is based on the simple principle of hot air rising.
A solar updraft tower consists of a central tube containing a turbine surrounded by a large collector area in the form of a sheet suspended a short distance above the ground.
When the sun hits the sheeting, it heats the ground and air below it. The heated air rises towards the point of least resistance – the tube. As the hot air rushes up the tube, it spins a turbine, which generates electricity.
The system offers an additional advantage – the potential to provide baseload electricity generation. As the ground below the collector heats throughout the day, even after nightfall, there is enough trapped heat energy for the facility to continue operation.
Far from being a “maybe” concept, a prototype solar updraft tower has been in operation in Spain for around 7 years.
While construction costs of a solar updraft tower are high, operations and maintenance costs are very low as the system is simple. Unlike some solar-thermal technologies, not a drop of water is needed for cooling.
Hyperion Energy has purchased a 127,000 hectare site surrounding the township of Tuckanarra, which is located in the Mid-West region of Western Australia and around 580km north-northeast from Perth. Aside from offering average annual horizontal solar radiation of 2300MJ/m2, the site is not prone to natural disasters, is close to major mines, a highway and airport.
The company says it is currently seeking approval for the project, with this stage expected to be complete by the end of this year. A 24-30 month construction stage will commence in 2014.