As the debate over global warming grows and frustration over sky-rocketing power bills mount, there's an increasing push for clean alternatives to pricey, dirty and increasingly rare fossil fuels. As Chief Meteorologist Kevan Ramer reports, a Maryland-based company thinks it's found one. It hopes to generate electricity by harnessing the natural forces of weather.
Electric power is everywhere. And in today's urban culture, it's a commodity we cannot live without.
It's the energy that lights up our cities, powers computers in our homes and businesses and keeps the air-conditioners humming on hot summer days.
As electricity demand rises, so does the cost of making electricity -- a cost passed on to consumers in higher monthly power bills.
But now a new company, Clean Wind Energy Tower, may have an answer to help lower the price of electrical power.
The company is preparing to build a unique tower, as tall as a skyscraper, that will create its own weather in the form of powerful down-drafts of air.
The reason? To use that rapidly falling air to make electricity.
Here's how it works: water is pumped into the giant hollow tower and sprayed as a fine mist into the hot, dry air at the top. The mist evaporates, cooling the surrounding air and making it dense and heavier. This weightier air then falls inside the tower at speeds up to 100 mph, turning large wind turbines at its base. The fast-flowing air is funneled through these turbines into generators, which then produce low cost electricity.
According to a scientist and consultant for the Wind Energy Tower, George Elliott, this idea has been around for some time.
"Actually scientists and technicians began 20-25 years ago or so in an effort to make environmentally friendly energy sources, alternative sources if you will, and cost effectively and hopefully in some capacity using the abundance of atmospheric energy that's already available to us in controlled environments," said Elliot.
Without being dependent on the whims of nature like sunshine and prevailing winds, Clean Wind Energy Tower is on the verge of turning a basic weather concept into usable energy.
And how would this new energy source compare to others?
"One tower is equivalent is to at least one nuclear power plant. But here's the big difference of course. You don't have nuclear issues, you don't have the safety issues, you don't have spent nuclear rods, you don't have the storage issue. These towers apparently they last forever. All you're using is water, evaporation, wind gradients and presto! You do have the energy that's produced through turbines and generators. So what we're talking about is water and wind at free will," said Elliot.
The company plans to soon build the first two of these towers near Yuma, Arizona. The power they are expected to generate would be used across the entire southwestern U.S., potentially supplying enough electricity for up to 1.6 million California and Arizona homes.
So by harnessing the power of downdraft winds -- very similar to those found in thunderstorms -- this new technology is expected to produce electricity at a cost of only 5 cents per kilowatt hour. That would make it, by far, the cheapest alternative energy source on the market today.