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UER Mobile > US: Four Corners > Rube Goldeberg Solar Power Towers (Viewed 448 times)

post by Aran   |  | 
Rube Goldeberg Solar Power Towers
< on 9/6/2023 9:40 PM >

A cold wind howled across the desert flatlands as we walked under the towers. The sky was dull and grey, the autumn sun not yet above the horizon as the massive solar panels creaked and shivered in the breeze. Rusted trucks and other vehicles were scattered haphazardly beneath the towers.

Cryptocartography lit a cigarette as I began to take photos. It didn't look like we'd get a sunrise today, but that grey desolation had a quality of its own.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Though it looks like some odd public art project, these strange towers in the desert are actually the remains of a tax fraud scheme. A pair of businessmen proposed a revolutionary new solar power design in the late 2000s. Traditional solar panels are expensive to produce, but the two men offered a solution to a small local township. Instead of generating electricity directly from sunlight using real solar panels, the "panels" in this array would be a bunch of cheap plastic lenses arranged in a circle that would focus sunlight into a crucible filled with combustible material to ignite it. The burning fuel would then convert water into steam and spin a turbine. There was just one problem- it was too complicated and inefficient to actually work.

This Rube Goldeberg-esque attempt at generating solar power never generated a single watt of electricity. To make matters worse, the cheap materials they used could not stand up to the fierce desert winds and quickly suffered severe damage that rendered the whole array nonfunctional. Despite that, the two businessmen still made tens of millions of dollars by convincing city officials that the town would earn enough renewable energy tax credits to cancel out any federal taxes owed, if only they'd just buy enough solar arrays.

Local newspapers began raising the alarm about this tax fraud plot in the early 2010s, but it wasn't until five years later that a joint investigation by the U.S Department of Justice and the IRS brought the whole scheme crashing down. Both businessmen were found guilty of defrauding the U.S. Treasury (who issued the renewable energy tax credits) and they were ordered to repay $50 million in restitution. Meanwhile, the half built solar arrays continue to rust away in the desert to this day.

[last edit 9/6/2023 9:55 PM by Aran - edited 5 times]

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post by Destructicorn   |  | 
Re: Rube Goldeberg Solar Power Towers
<Reply # 1 on 9/6/2023 10:07 PM >

With a design as cool-looking as that, it is a little sad it was just energy snake oil. Were the crucibles metal? because they look a little precarious if so.

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post by Aran   |  | 
Re: Rube Goldeberg Solar Power Towers
<Reply # 2 on 9/7/2023 6:46 AM >

Posted by Destructicorn
With a design as cool-looking as that, it is a little sad it was just energy snake oil. Were the crucibles metal? because they look a little precarious if so.

Nah, they looked like some kind of plastic or fiberglass- making them even more fragile and prone to cracking under the desert winds than metal would be. These things were built cheap.

[last edit 9/7/2023 6:47 AM by Aran - edited 1 times]

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