From: Bruce Sterling []
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2001 3:55 PM
Subject: Viridian Note 00273: A Beautiful Toy and A Nice


Key concepts: Solar chimney, Australian megastructure

Attention Conservation Notice: A cool imaginary construction. Also, there's a party this weekend at the Viridian Vatican, featuring free beer.


Note the uncannily prescient graphic by James Porto, from a Viridian article by Michael McDonough and Bruce Sterling. "Newer York, New York" first appeared in WIRED magazine in January 2000.

Some snapshots from last weekend's Renewable Energy Roundup by^^^* (Thomas Fang).

The solar chimney concept's from a German academic in Stuttgart.

Herr Prof-Dr Schlaich gives his pitch in QuickTime.

"Schlaich Bergermann and Partners" are also into some eye- catching Towers, Concrete Shell Structures, Cable Net Structures, Glass Grid Roofs, Textile Membrane Roofs, Highway and Railway Bridges, Pedestrian Bridges, Suspended Buildings and various forms of Solar Power Plant.

Source: Wired News, Stewart Taggart,1294,46814,00.html

"Creating New, Sky-High Power By Stewart Taggart

"Sep. 18, 2001 PDT

"SYDNEY, Australia == Looking somewhat like a huge,
upturned golf tee, it would be the highest man-made
structure on earth. It would also provide electricity to
as many as 200,000 homes.

     "If built, a proposed 200-megawatt 'solar chimney' for rural Australia would become the most daring application yet of a quirky form of generating alternative, renewable electricity. While the engineering would be biblical in scale, the concept itself is simple.

     "A circular greenhouse with an upward sloping roof toward the center would draw heated air through electricity-generating turbines before allowing it to escape through a central 'chimney.' The hitch? The greenhouse would cover six square miles, and the chimney would stand more than a half-mile tall. (((Yike!)))

     "Over the next two years, the public Australian company EnviroMission Ltd. will be searching sunny, spacious Australia for the ideal site to put such a huge chimney and greenhouse. EnviroMission hopes to break

ground on the project in 2003 and be generating
electricity == as much as 500 gigawatt hours per year ==
by 2005.

     "That is, if it can convince the skeptics. (((Oh. Is that a problem?))) Why? Because the closest approximation to such a huge proposed monocle-in-the- desert, which has been built thus far, was a 50-kilowatt demonstration prototype built in Spain in the early 1980s. (((Built by the same guys, too.))) While that prototype operated successfully for two years, it's an open question just how well the concept will ramp up when 40 times larger.

     "'Every single independent expert we have spoken to has no doubt that this level of scalability is possible,' says Roger Davey, chief financial officer for EnviroMission. 'The economics point to 200 megawatts as the optimum size.' (((Anything smaller doesn't make money, unfortunately.)))

     "The key to the technology lies in creating an environment that maintains a temperature differential between the inside and the outside of the greenhouse. Under those conditions, air inside the greenhouse rushes along the upward-sloping ceiling toward the center, creating a near constant 'wind' that then turns the turbines. (((Fight the Greenhouse with a greenhouse.)))

     "At night, heat-absorbing rocks or other heat sources in the greenhouse would slowly release the thermal energy built up during the day, maintaining the indoor-outdoor temperature differential. Then the 'solar chimney' could operate around the clock, instead of depending on environmental factors, such as the wind needed for wind farms.

     "'Unless the chimney falls over, or they pick totally the wrong materials for the greenhouse, the 'solar chimney' idea should work,' says Keith Lovegrove, chairman of the Australian and New Zealand Solar Energy Society. 'There's no question about the principles, because it's so incredibly simple.'

Link: our man Keith

     "The idea of solar chimneys has been around since the late 1970s, says Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory based at the University of California at Berkeley. But at that time, many believed the 1970's era of high oil prices would prove transitory.

     "That, coupled with technical challenges and a belief that there was no money to be made in alternative energy, left solar chimneys and other alternative energy technologies unexplored and unfunded until now.

     "These days, given ongoing worries about energy security and an increased focus on environmental factors, industry players are waking up to just about anything with the word 'renewable' attached to it. EnviroMission appears to be one such company.

     (...) "The estimated construction cost of the plant would be around US $342 million, costing about 70 percent more per installed megawatt than a comparable wind farm, Davey says. But he believes that disadvantage could well be wiped away by the solar chimney's ability to generate power more consistently than fickle wind.

     "Nonetheless, seeing will be believing for some people, he acknowledges. 'Building credibility is perhaps our hardest job going forward,' Davey says. (((Speaking as a design critic, one does wonder a bit about a proposed technology that begins with the world's "highest structure".)))

     "First, take the engineering challenges. A 200- megawatt capacity 'solar chimney' is going to require a circular greenhouse almost 2.5 miles in diameter, enclosing a total area of more than six square miles.

    "That would make it one of the largest man-made
structures == let alone greenhouses == ever built. The
second engineering challenge is building the chimney that
== at 3,250-feet high == would be more than twice as tall
as the world's highest building, Kuala Lumpur's 1,569-foot
high Petronas Tower.  (((Okay, how 'bout building it onto
the side of a very, very tall cliff? No wait! We'll launch a big satellite into a Clarke geosynchronous orbit and lower the thing down on a ladder!)))

     "But Davey says these challenges can be met with largely off-the-shelf expertise.

     "Next question: Why Australia?

     "The answer: lots of sunshine, lots of space and a federal law requiring energy retailers to ramp up their purchases of renewable energy by 2010, Davey says. Already, wind farms, biomass furnaces and other alternative energy plants are being planned for Australia. The solar chimney is merely joining the list, Davey says. (...)

     "Ultimately, if EnviroMission can supply as much as 500 gigawatt hours of power per year, it could help Australia avoid pumping 830,000 tons of gases that would contribute to the greenhouse effect into the atmosphere,

Davey says. That's because the plant would largely
supplant coal burning == Australia's major electricity
fuel source.  (((Okay, wait a minute == you build the
chimney straight down a coal mine, and then you just
remove all the surrounding rock.)))

     "But Eric Hu, a senior lecturer in energy and thermal engineering at Melbourne's Deakin University, suggests any greenhouse benefits could be a fantasy.

     "That's because by trapping heat, such a chimney could reduce Earth's 'albedo,' or ability to reflect light back into space. Thus, by transforming solar radiation into

heat, a solar chimney might actually contribute to warming
earth's atmosphere == even while reducing emissions of
greenhouse gases.  (((You heard it here first, ladies and
gentlemen == the solar heat-pollution threat.  But Dr.
Hu is clearly a spoilsport == because any thermal energy
trapped by this giant chimney can easily be offset by
paving another six square miles with a mirror. Piece o' cake.)))


"Meet the Dr. Karlosi Think Tank. Right out of the classic sci-fi of the fifties with 90's technology. All gleaming steel and aluminum with rubber hoses, it is a special effects triumph, standing over 47" tall. Plug it in. Lights and bubbler run on standard 110 volt house current. Your spare brain floating inside is resilient gray latex. So realistic you can almost hear the moans of its lost owner. The Pump is guaranteed for 25 years. Priced at $225 (US) + $18 shipping & handling."

(((These times clearly call for spare brains, and what better place to find some than a workshop for science fiction writers? This weekend, October 6, sees yet another installment in the far-famed and remarkably long- lived Turkey City Workshop. The literary lioness at this weekend's event is a dear friend and justly prominent editor, Ellen Datlow, who is flying down from New York City to give the Texan locals what-for.

     (((Turkey City is not, in point of fact, a Viridian event. But who cares? As long as the doors are open, the weather's nice, and brainy geeks of a vaguely futuristic bent are wandering in and out, you might as well drop by. We are fresh back from a local green-energy event, so we have a bunch of propaganda and some brand-new Viridian t-shirts.

     (((Festivities will start around 8:30 Saturday night. If you're interested in making the scene and meeting Ms Datlow, send me some email so I can get a head-count. I'll also explain how to get here, if you don't, in point of fact, know already.)))

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