To extract energy from the sun there are a lot of different ways. According to my knowledge the ones that receives most of the attention are photovoltaics, concentrated solar power, and the Solar updraft tower. The first two solutions reached commercial scale. There are already many photovoltaics plants operational and few CSP plants. The updraft tower instead seems locked in an eternal study phase. The first proposal was made about one hundred years ago, if you search of the internet you will find a lot of studies experiments and cost evaluations, many of them conducted by major universities. But as far as I know there have only been few small scale experimental plants.

I remember seeing some comments in the Wikipedia talk that described the idea as a fairy tale due to the low efficiency that render the ratio cost/output too high. I can't find those comments anymore but still this archived discussion expresses a lot of scepticism.

On the other hand if the idea is really so infeasible it seems strange that so many resources were dedicated to the studies, there are also dozen of patents related to the technology and patents have a cost.

As far as I know all the proposals for a commercial plant have been silently abandoned. Am I correct? Is there any ongoing project? Does it have any chance to reach commercial status?

Please restrict the answers to the Solar updraft tower.

  • $\begingroup$ What about solar water heating? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 13, 2022 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike Yes, I forgot about it. So there would be 4 main options instead of 3, but that would change little to the question. It is irrelevant to list all the possible ways to extract energy from the Sun. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Dec 13, 2022 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ There are certainly companies working on the idea (for example, enviromission.com.au/site/content). Whether they're on track for something, chasing a bad idea, or simply grifting is hard to tell. Universities are working on concepts with creative materials of construction (patents.google.com/patent/US10006443). That type of research often leads no where but if it worked it could dramatically change the practicality of these designs. $\endgroup$
    – Emily Conn
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


It seems fairly clear that it's cheaper to put a wind turbine out in a field or on the coast instead of building a huge structure to make it work. And photovoltaics seems to have a fine rate of return these days.

The simplest answer to why something hasn't been built is usually because there are better alternatives. Lots of things are researched that never become commercially feasible.

  • $\begingroup$ The two technologies work in very different environmental conditions. Your answer says nothing about what was asked. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Dec 14, 2022 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ @FluidCode seems better value than your question. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 14, 2022 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @FluidCode, no one on here is going to go price out the economics of these things when the market has already done it for us. Clearly one of the environmental conditions doesn't work for wind turbines. $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Dec 15, 2022 at 10:06

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