Plans To Beam Solar Power From Space

FILED UNDER: Technology

The idea of beaming solar power from satellites back to earth is not new, but due to improvements in technology it has become a lot cheaper and strategically vital.

Pranav Mehta, the director of India operations for Space Island Group, wants to see his home country, India, supply enough energy for its people. “Rural India is suffering a lot because of a lack of energy,” he said.

According to India’s Planning Commission, India will need to generate 700,000 megawatts of additional power by 2030 to meet the needs of the country’s growing population.

It is shortages such as this, as well as skyrocketing oil prices and awareness of climate change that has sparked a renewed interest in the idea.

The satellites would collect solar radiation from the sun in high orbit, 22,000 miles above the earth. They would electromagnetically beam the vast amounts of energy to ground-based receivers which would convert the energy to electricity, ready to be fed into the power grid. The panels would almost never see darkness, collecting energy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The idea was first introduced by American Scientist Peter Glasser in 1968. NASA and the United States Department of Energy then began to study the concept and continued right through the 1970s. They found the concept to be feasible but getting all the parts into space and then assembling them would cost an unacceptable amount considering the cheap energy sources the U.S. already had access to at the time.

“The estimated cost of all of the infrastructure to build them in space was about $1 trillion,” said John Mankins, president of the Space Power Association. “It was an unimaginable amount of money.”

In the mid-90s NASA looked at the project again in a study called “Fresh Look”. The project was shelved again, as while the technology was more advanced and considerably cheaper, it was still too expensive.

“The conditions are ripe for something to happen on space solar power,” said Charles Miller, a director of the Space Frontier Foundation, a group which promotes public access to space.

A report released by the Pentagon in 2007 encouraged the United States government to lead the world in the development of space power systems. “A single kilometer-wide band of geosynchronous Earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today,” the report said.

It was a powerful finding, but what may have been even more persuasive was the conclusion that solar power from satellites could provide energy for global United States military operations. It also said that the satellites could be used to deliver power to developing nations or disaster areas.

“The country that takes the lead on space solar power will be the energy exporting country for the entire planet for the next few hundred years,” said Miller.

Japan has been developing this technology for decades, spending millions of dollars on space power studies. In the near future they hope to test a small-scale prototype. China, Russia, India and the European Union are also interested in the idea according to the report.

The biggest barrier is a lack of cheap and reliable access to space to get the hundreds of components that make up the miles-long platforms into orbit.

“We could see the first operational power satellite in about the 2020 time frame if we act now,” said Miller.

Sources:
CNN.com
NewScientist

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Comments (One Response):

I’m actually glad I found this post. I’ve been searching for info on solar energy for some time.Looking forward to reading more posts about energy.

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