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Published on June 18th, 2009 | by Jeff Kart

27

Closer to the Sun: Satellite Solar is Out of This World



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This is a notch up from high-altitude wind turbines.

It’s another type of space race, to be the first company to get solar satellites into orbit.

U.S. companies are aggressively researching the technology, reports Yale 360. One firm called PowerSat in Washington state has filed for patents to link as many 300 shiny satellites together in space, beam the energy to one big satellite, then transmit the power back to Earth.

The star trek also includes using solar-powered thrusters to launch satellites into orbit 22,000 miles above our planet.

A California utility called PG&E also has signed a deal with Solaren for 200 megawatts of space-based solar power in 2016, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Pentagon has been studying solar satellite technology for decades, but high costs have confined sun power to the ground.

PowerSat says it expects to have systems in the sky within a decade.

The company’s two technologies, BrightStar and Solar Powered Orbital Transfer, will enable the reduction of launch and operation costs by about $1 billion for a 2,500 megawatt power station, PowerSat officials say.

“Powersats can provide baseload power similar to that of a traditional coal or a nuclear powered plant, but without any of the emissions problems or the need to tap into limited resources,” according to the company Web site.

“Unlike other sources of renewable energy, space solar power is not limited by geography, climate or even time of day. Clean, renewable, baseload power can be fed directly onto the grid 24/7.”

Are high-altitude wind and space solar two “pie in the sky” ideas? Or should they be a focus of the future?

Photo Couresy of NASA via Wikipedia.

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About the Author

is typing about issues in the Great Lakes, from advanced biofuels to zero-emission vehicles. Jeff is an environmental journalist and social media evangelist based in Michigan, where the summers are short, the winters are cold, and the stories are plentiful.



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  • Matt

    Surely these kind of developments in space, have problems with stellar objects, the amount of obejects hitting and damaging the cells would be such that there would have to be either people stationed to fix them, or many expeditions to fix them.

    Though a great idea worthy of additional research, I can’t see how this would be financially viable.

  • grey eminence

    If it were a line source versus a point source it

    could be possible.

    The only problem is it is a point source and the inverse square law applies.

    Making this what is typically called a pipe dream.

  • grey eminence

    If it were a line source versus a point source it

    could be possible.

    The only problem is it is a point source and the inverse square law applies.

    Making this what is typically called a pipe dream.

  • grey eminence

    If it were a line source versus a point source it

    could be possible.

    The only problem is it is a point source and the inverse square law applies.

    Making this what is typically called a pipe dream.

  • http://www.elrst.com Edouard (from France)

    I have to admit I don’t really get the whole idea of sending heavy solar panels to space. There are already so many debris and waste around our planet…

    Solar energies are great, but to me, they should stay on Earth. Grid parity will soon occur, sending those panels to space would delay that…

  • http://www.elrst.com Edouard (from France)

    I have to admit I don’t really get the whole idea of sending heavy solar panels to space. There are already so many debris and waste around our planet…

    Solar energies are great, but to me, they should stay on Earth. Grid parity will soon occur, sending those panels to space would delay that…

  • http://www.elrst.com Edouard (from France)

    I have to admit I don’t really get the whole idea of sending heavy solar panels to space. There are already so many debris and waste around our planet…

    Solar energies are great, but to me, they should stay on Earth. Grid parity will soon occur, sending those panels to space would delay that…

  • http://www.elrst.com Edouard (from France)

    I have to admit I don’t really get the whole idea of sending heavy solar panels to space. There are already so many debris and waste around our planet…

    Solar energies are great, but to me, they should stay on Earth. Grid parity will soon occur, sending those panels to space would delay that…

  • Jnudan

    The physics and engineering of the concept has been studied numerous times in many countries over the last 30 years with little controversy on the technical feasibility… it is the cost side of the equation that has been the challenge. Now that we realize carbon emissions are going to eventually kill most of us, we must factor the real cost of carbon emissions into the equation, and large capacity carbonless energy sources like SBSP come out on top, with perhaps only nuclear power as a close competitor. SBSP is a theoretical solution to critical global problem and should not be judged by those with no solutions but only the naive conventional wisdoms that got us into the problem in the first place. We should investigate this option with the greatest of speed and effort like our life depends on it…. which of course it does.

  • Jnudan

    The physics and engineering of the concept has been studied numerous times in many countries over the last 30 years with little controversy on the technical feasibility… it is the cost side of the equation that has been the challenge. Now that we realize carbon emissions are going to eventually kill most of us, we must factor the real cost of carbon emissions into the equation, and large capacity carbonless energy sources like SBSP come out on top, with perhaps only nuclear power as a close competitor. SBSP is a theoretical solution to critical global problem and should not be judged by those with no solutions but only the naive conventional wisdoms that got us into the problem in the first place. We should investigate this option with the greatest of speed and effort like our life depends on it…. which of course it does.

  • Jnudan

    The physics and engineering of the concept has been studied numerous times in many countries over the last 30 years with little controversy on the technical feasibility… it is the cost side of the equation that has been the challenge. Now that we realize carbon emissions are going to eventually kill most of us, we must factor the real cost of carbon emissions into the equation, and large capacity carbonless energy sources like SBSP come out on top, with perhaps only nuclear power as a close competitor. SBSP is a theoretical solution to critical global problem and should not be judged by those with no solutions but only the naive conventional wisdoms that got us into the problem in the first place. We should investigate this option with the greatest of speed and effort like our life depends on it…. which of course it does.

  • Jnudan

    The physics and engineering of the concept has been studied numerous times in many countries over the last 30 years with little controversy on the technical feasibility… it is the cost side of the equation that has been the challenge. Now that we realize carbon emissions are going to eventually kill most of us, we must factor the real cost of carbon emissions into the equation, and large capacity carbonless energy sources like SBSP come out on top, with perhaps only nuclear power as a close competitor. SBSP is a theoretical solution to critical global problem and should not be judged by those with no solutions but only the naive conventional wisdoms that got us into the problem in the first place. We should investigate this option with the greatest of speed and effort like our life depends on it…. which of course it does.

  • Jnudan

    The physics and engineering of the concept has been studied numerous times in many countries over the last 30 years with little controversy on the technical feasibility… it is the cost side of the equation that has been the challenge. Now that we realize carbon emissions are going to eventually kill most of us, we must factor the real cost of carbon emissions into the equation, and large capacity carbonless energy sources like SBSP come out on top, with perhaps only nuclear power as a close competitor. SBSP is a theoretical solution to critical global problem and should not be judged by those with no solutions but only the naive conventional wisdoms that got us into the problem in the first place. We should investigate this option with the greatest of speed and effort like our life depends on it…. which of course it does.

  • Charles Vismeg

    From my basic engineering experience I could only agree with the first 3 commenters. Even if the task of the proposed concept is actualized, the cost alone is so high that the allocated funds would be much better spent on simple, current(and evolving) tech solar installations as we know them today. Efficiency and efficacy of the concept may be another enourmous hurdle that I’m not ready to contemplate. At any rate, it’s reassuring that the quest for finding solution to humankind’s basic (energy) needs are really alive.

  • justwatching

    If you think photovoltiacs are expencive on earth just wait till you see the additional cost of launching them into orbit. $5 per watt or more on earth today and no one can afford them and the price is climbing. I bought 120 watt pannels in 2004 at $2.46 per watt and now those same pannels are 0ver $8 per watt. This is not a practical idea.

  • justwatching

    If you think photovoltiacs are expencive on earth just wait till you see the additional cost of launching them into orbit. $5 per watt or more on earth today and no one can afford them and the price is climbing. I bought 120 watt pannels in 2004 at $2.46 per watt and now those same pannels are 0ver $8 per watt. This is not a practical idea.

  • justwatching

    If you think photovoltiacs are expencive on earth just wait till you see the additional cost of launching them into orbit. $5 per watt or more on earth today and no one can afford them and the price is climbing. I bought 120 watt pannels in 2004 at $2.46 per watt and now those same pannels are 0ver $8 per watt. This is not a practical idea.

  • justwatching

    If you think photovoltiacs are expencive on earth just wait till you see the additional cost of launching them into orbit. $5 per watt or more on earth today and no one can afford them and the price is climbing. I bought 120 watt pannels in 2004 at $2.46 per watt and now those same pannels are 0ver $8 per watt. This is not a practical idea.

  • Keith Henson

    There are a lot of problems with power satellites and transporting millions of tons of parts to GEO, but getting the energy back via microwaves has been understood for more than 40 years.

    And the basic physics (optics) has been around more than 200 years.

    There was a lot of recent discussion about this on The Oil Drum http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5485

  • Keith Henson

    There are a lot of problems with power satellites and transporting millions of tons of parts to GEO, but getting the energy back via microwaves has been understood for more than 40 years.

    And the basic physics (optics) has been around more than 200 years.

    There was a lot of recent discussion about this on The Oil Drum http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5485

  • http://www.f1media.be Bert

    Now, if you want to accelerate global warming, then this really is the way to go.

    Global temperature is all about balance. Sun gives power on our planet, earth radiates it back into space. Earth temperature dictates how much power is emitted into space. So earth temperature is an indicator of the power balance.

    With these systems on a large scale, you’re going to shift the balance again towards extra warming bacause you’re diverting extra solar energy onto earth.

  • http://www.f1media.be Bert

    Now, if you want to accelerate global warming, then this really is the way to go.

    Global temperature is all about balance. Sun gives power on our planet, earth radiates it back into space. Earth temperature dictates how much power is emitted into space. So earth temperature is an indicator of the power balance.

    With these systems on a large scale, you’re going to shift the balance again towards extra warming bacause you’re diverting extra solar energy onto earth.

  • Paul

    All 100% science fiction.

    Due to “Free-space path loss” it is absolutely impossible to wirelessly transmit electrical power 22,000 miles.

    http://www.gizmag.com/pge-sign-up-for-200-mw-of-baseload-space-solar-power/11495/

    As for high altitude, the power cable alone would be 12 miles long and weigh many tons… stratospheric balloons have to lighter than air just to get off he ground.

  • Paul

    All 100% science fiction.

    Due to “Free-space path loss” it is absolutely impossible to wirelessly transmit electrical power 22,000 miles.

    http://www.gizmag.com/pge-sign-up-for-200-mw-of-baseload-space-solar-power/11495/

    As for high altitude, the power cable alone would be 12 miles long and weigh many tons… stratospheric balloons have to lighter than air just to get off he ground.

  • Paul

    All 100% science fiction.

    Due to “Free-space path loss” it is absolutely impossible to wirelessly transmit electrical power 22,000 miles.

    http://www.gizmag.com/pge-sign-up-for-200-mw-of-baseload-space-solar-power/11495/

    As for high altitude, the power cable alone would be 12 miles long and weigh many tons… stratospheric balloons have to lighter than air just to get off he ground.

  • Paul

    All 100% science fiction.

    Due to “Free-space path loss” it is absolutely impossible to wirelessly transmit electrical power 22,000 miles.

    http://www.gizmag.com/pge-sign-up-for-200-mw-of-baseload-space-solar-power/11495/

    As for high altitude, the power cable alone would be 12 miles long and weigh many tons… stratospheric balloons have to lighter than air just to get off he ground.

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