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enviromission solar tower - AZRE Magazine May/June 2012

Super Solar Tower To Rise From Desert Floor

‘Look, up in the sky!’ Super Solar Tower will rise 2,800 feet from the desert floor in Arizona’s La Paz County.

For 75 years, Hensel Phelps Construction Co. has made a name for itself around the world with innovative building projects. However, the best is yet to come.

In 2013, the Western District Hensel Phelps office in Phoenix is to begin construction on a proposed $740M, 2,800-foot Solar Tower in La Paz County in western Arizona.

“The project is fantastic on several fronts,” says Mark Watson, chief estimator for the Phoenix office, “from its size to the simplicity behind its great power generation capabilities and we are extremely excited to be part of this renewable energy solution that will change the way the world looks at alternate power generation.”

To appreciate the height of the Solar Tower, which is being built for EnviroMission of Australia, consider that the tallest building in Arizona is the Chase Tower in Downtown Phoenix at 483 feet. Now picture six Chase Towers stacked atop each other and you have the Solar Tower — which also has a diameter of 450 feet.

To appreciate its simplicity, here’s how it works. A 4-square-mile greenhouse will heat air and direct it up through the concrete chimney. The hot air will turn turbines to produce 200 MW of electricity, enough to power 50,000 homes.

Despite its simplicity, the project is challenging. And that’s why Hensel Phelps was chosen. Hensel Phelps has built other challenging projects that included specialized infrastructure components such as rocket launch facilities for NASA in Florida and California, aviation infrastructure at airports around the country (including the PHX Sky Train at Sky Harbor International Airport), military bases, and U.S. ports of entry.

When asked why Hensel Phelps was the right fit for the solar tower project, Chris Davey, president of EnviroMission, says the decision was twofold.

“One, their internal culture is second to none,” Davey says. “They tend to recruit people young out of college and train them the Hensel Phelps way. They stay there for extended periods of time. That reflects the kind of work they do.

“And two, Hensel Phelps takes on projects that are the first of their kind — and not just high-rises or hospitals. They build launch pads, sky trains … and solar towers.”

The pricing approach for a project of this scale requires the components to be broken down into manageable subsystems that can be supported by the local, state, national and world market, Watson says. Solar Tower’s components consist of a concrete tower, collector system, foundation systems, turbines, transmission and electrical infrastructure. Each of these components has been built in other applications throughout the world and are easily quantifiable. The real challenge for this project, Watson adds, is not the uniqueness of the components or design, but the logistics of corralling the various stakeholders.

“The exceptional development team assembled by EnviroMission draws experts from all over the world that in itself requires a high level of collaboration that is not always apparent on many projects,” Watson says. “On one hand, efficiencies and cost savings are achieved through commoditizing the relatively few but high quantity materials. On the other hand, given the size and location of the project, consideration is given to the transport of men and materials to the point of installation. Whether it is getting the resources to the project site or 2,800 feet in the air, logistical challenges exist due to the project scale.”

A company and its capabilities are defined by the people who work there. And it is those people within the organization that bring the necessary experience for any project.

“Hensel Phelps has the best professional builders in the industry,” Watson says proudly. “They are a diverse team of determined, can do, problem solvers with a culture that continuously challenges its people to think outside the box and develop creative solutions for the most challenging problems.”

Hensel Phelps also understands the importance of collaborative planning and analysis during the early stages of this challenging project, Watson says.

“We utilize proven pre-construction processes to ensure that the project will receive accurate and reliable data with regard to cost, constructability, and key systems selections to ensure EnviroMission’s is a facility that exceeds the expectations for functionality, efficiency, maintainability, and cost effectiveness for the life of the structure.”

Davey says Hensel Phelps’ experience is a key component to the Solar Tower, which will generate electricity to 10 municipal utility companies in the Southern California Public Power Authority.

“So many things have to happen for a project like this to succeed,” Davey says. “You need to have the right partners on board.”

The EnviroMission Solar Tower is a significant project. Hensel Phelps builds unique projects regularly throughout the country that require construction innovation and an adaptable approach in order to be successful. From those experiences, Watson says, the company has created a solutions orientated team of construction professionals.

The project’s significance likely will also be felt in the state’s fragile commercial real estate industry.

Adds Watson: “Part of the significance of this project is the positive impact it will have on the Arizona construction industry by maximizing the use of local subcontractors and vendors.”

For more information on Hensel Phelps Construction, visit Hensel Phelps’ website at henselphelps.com.

AZRE Magazine May/June 2012