Update: China is building pyramids. Sort of. Well, they're tall and pointy. The concept is similar.

You hated my idea of building canals all across America. And you don't trust the company that claims to harvest usable energy from the atmosphere. But you'll love my pyramid idea.

Imagine an enormous pyramid in the middle of a desert, miles wide and reaching miles into the sky. The purpose of the pyramid is energy production. And it does so in a variety of ways.

For starters, the inner core of the pyramid is hollow from the ground to the sky. Air enters through holes in the base and is drawn up through the hollow center because warm air rises. That gives you enough airflow to generate electricity.

If you put some scrubbers in the device I think there's a way to deal with pollution and climate change too. I saw some sort of tube-to-the-sky concept that was supposed to do that but I'm too lazy to search for the link. So let's say we fix climate change with our pyramid as a bonus. Perhaps that requires a separate hollow tube in the same pyramid.

We'd also cover the sunny sides of the pyramid with motorized mirrors to reflect sun down to generate solar-steam power on the ground. I think that's more economical than using photovoltaic cells but maybe not.

If it's possible to collect ions from the air in useful quantities (which most of you doubt) then we know there is a higher concentration at high altitudes. So perhaps someday we have ion antennas near the top of the pyramid too.

And let's not forget the temperature differential between the desert floor and the top of the pyramid. That difference could power Stirling generators.

And I would expect lots of natural wind a few miles up, so maybe we can have windmill-type generators on whichever side of the pyramid gets the least sun.

If your desert is within pipeline access to the ocean, I think that turning salt water into steam gets you desalinization. I would think you could make fresh water with the byproduct of your solar steam generator.

None of this works if building the pyramid is too expensive. So I wonder how hard it is to fashion suitably strong bricks out of sand. If it's only a case of heating the sand until it becomes hard as glass, all we need is giant magnifying glasses aimed at our brick-making oven on site.

We'd need robot laborers, and lots of them. Their job would be moving and placing each brick of the pyramid, which isn't terribly complicated work. That seems feasible with current technology.

To power the robots, you need to start your project by first building a solar power plant on the desert floor. That too would be the type that concentrates the sun to create steam power. And the solar power plant wouldn't go to waste because if the first pyramid works, you can keep building more nearby and power the robots continuously. When you're done building pyramids, the power plant connects to the grid.

When aliens helped the early Egyptians build the original pyramids perhaps they were leaving a clue for future generations. That conversation probably went like this:

Alien: We need to tell future generations of humans about pyramids. It will save them.

Egyptian: I can write a message on a wall.

Alien: I've seen your hieroglyphics. They're shit. Look at that one. (Points at wall.) I can't tell if that guy is winning a war or trying to date his ox.

Egyptian: I just realized you guys are made of meat. And if I'm not mistaken, you're boneless.

And that's why the pyramids exist but there is no evidence of aliens.


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Did you buy a graduation gift yet? Don't forget this book.




Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +92
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Jun 14, 2014
The data approach is the right one. Here's my approach:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 5, 2014
This sounds a lot better than the canals!
May 30, 2014
Not the worst idea, but if you build it, do it in New Mexico. That place is miles and miles of nothing.
May 30, 2014
FFS will you please write a science fiction novel? Is it so much to ask?
May 30, 2014
It sounds crazy. But I love it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014
>>Speaking of killing birds, thermal solar is a great way to do it: Birds going up in smoke at Ivanpah solar project

The pyramid provides lunch too! Where can I get one of those cool pointy hats?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014

For those that thought desalinization was a bad idea, or too expensive, here's a country-sized solution that is actively working today. The quality of life benefits alone seem to make it a bargain.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014
- Building a hollow pyramid does not work. Build an igloo instead. Or by cutting off the roof, a chimney.
- This igloo/chimney will need to have increasingly thick walls towards the bottom, just like a dam
- You need proper founding. Many kinds of ground are inadequate. E.g.:

- You can harvest thermal energy once. Whatever you divert by mirrors won't heat the pyramid. Whatever you use to heat the air to harvest updraft will be lost for the Sterling generators. Historically it's been better to use one way of harvesting energy properly, either solarthermal, updraft or Sterling. But combining solar cells with updraft might work?

- Turning the chimneigloo into a shaft for a giant windmill might work.

- Maybe it's possible to melt sand into a block of stone using solar energy from a field of mirrors.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014
Enjoyed the post, but enjoying the great links in the comments even more. Sun-Sinter looks AWESOME!
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014
Funny post, but somehow I think you had better ideas, even that of the channels. At least you tackle the important question, that is already halfway to solve it.

The issue with all these ideas is the benchmarking.
In a sunny place, you put this magical flat thing called solar panel, and kind of magically, you get electricity in DC form. If you put it in California, and oriented like 20° inclination and south, you get over the year about 360kWh out of each m2 (if you use Panasonic HIT or Sunpower technology, about 20% less if you go for cheap standard panels). The "good" ones will go for about 200$/m2, plus supporting structure and labor. Cheap ones for half of that (panel cost, the rest is more expensive than for high-efficiency panels).
If you want payback in 10 years, that makes (no compound interest rate) 3600 kWh produced for about 400$ (always 1m2), if you take 200$ for panel and 200$ for the rest (real prices in power plants today are well below that, even for those top-of-top brands).
You end up in 10 years paying back and having a maintenance-free power plant that generated for about 10 US cents/kWh during the first 10 years.

Your pyramid cannot compete with that. Thermodynamics are a !$%*!$%*!$%*!$% are basic (=fundamental) problems with getting energy from natural heating processes.

1- efficiency is low, so you need huge areas (land use)
2- areas are huge, so you need expensive construction
3- heat-cold processes are hard on materials, so you need maintenance (OPEX)
4- you need water or other coolant for solar thermal big plants. You do not have that in the desert or other sunny places

Wind energy is also nice, you get energy, even with all those "expensive maintenance" arguments for below 10 cent/kWh. Less predictably than solar, with more visual impact and some animal impact, but on the same area of cost.

If you want to solve "humanity"'s energy problem, we have the technologies. But you need to displace current status quo of energy generation; companies who will not go away without fighting.

You also need to displace fossils in transportation, which is not easy (Tesla is going there though)

You need to displace fossils in maritime transportation (not easy either).

But at the end you are trying to make some kind of machine that acts as a generator of energy from the environment without fuel- we have those already. You have to tackle the economies of it, if you want to do it right.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2014
And this is why I keep reading Scott's blog - for the crazy, beautiful nerd mind output.

Best one in awhile!
May 29, 2014
Scott's blog has just been Slash-dotted (/.): Check out the link:

+38 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
Seriously? Not a SINGLE person pointed out that Scott is now trying to rope us all into his pyramid scheme??
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014


I did like the part about the edible aliens.
+44 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
Nice idea, but in Central Europe we have had something similar for quite a long time:
it's a whole chain of pyramids, hundreds of kilometers long.

The main difference with your idea is that,
instead of creating energy with solar steam power and using it to pump water up the pyramids,
we evaporate the water with solar power and then create energy letting it flow down the pyramids.

They are called Alps, and they work pretty well also for tourists.
It was not even very expensive to build them: Africa is currently giving a push to support
the intercontinental effort of making them higher.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
I've been having a rough day, and then read this: You hated my idea of building canals all across America. And you don't trust the company that claims to harvest usable energy from the atmosphere. But you'll love my pyramid idea.

I laughed out loud.

Scott, thank you so much.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
This guy built a 3d printer to use the sun to make stuff out of sand:
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
Why don't we just shove an anode as wide as Nebraska right up the Earth's [a]{s}[s] turning it into one giant battery that powers everything. You're welcome.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
Randall Munroe of XKCD postulates that it is unlikely we can easily build a building higher than 3km (see "billion storybuilding" in his What If feature). Not sure if boring a mountain would be as bad as the ones we are stripping the tops off of, but it seems like it may also have a down side.

The idea didn't totally suck until you threw in a water slide and everything else. And this from the cartoonist who literally named one of his characters the "Feature Creep!"
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
Speaking of killing birds, thermal solar is a great way to do it:

Birds going up in smoke at Ivanpah solar project

A new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has labeled BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah project a “mega-trap” for insects and birds that may get singed or in some cases, burned alive flying through the intense solar radiation reflecting off the thousands of mirrors surrounding three solar towers at the plant in eastern San Bernardino County.

The Center for Biological Diversity posted the report to the California Energy Commission website on Monday as part of its testimony opposing BrightSource’s 500-megawatt Palen project, located east of the Coachella Valley, which would use similar technology — soaring solar towers surrounded by thousands of reflecting mirrors.

Read the report

“Although not analyzed in detail, there was also significant bat and insect mortality at the Ivanpah site, including monarch butterflies,” the report said. “It appears that Ivanpah may act as a ‘mega-trap,’ (original emphasis) attracting insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death.”

Solar flux is the intense radiation coming off the reflecting mirrors. At Ivanpah, the radiation is so intense it creates what look like small clouds around the boilers at the top of the project’s three 459-foot-tall solar towers. These clouds appear to be attracting the insects which in turn attract the birds.
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