A report published by an Indian Defense ministry-backed think tank has proposed for the establishment of an international space-based solar energy program with India and the United States initiating this massive project. The report is prepared by Peter Garretson, a US Air Force lieutenant colonel, working with the Institue of Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The reports calls for the Indian and the United States’ governments to extend their strategic partnerships to initiate this pathbreaking project and make the space-based solar energy a commercially viable business venture by 2025.
The report proposes that the two countries should wait no more and kick start the project through a joint statement during President Obama’s visit to India in November. The author of the report has proposed a three-tiered approach for the implementation of the program.
Expanding on the three-stage plan, Garretson says an initial five-year $10-30 million programme will develop contributing technologies and build a competent work force culminating in a roadmap for a demonstration prototype.
A second, $10 billion, 10-year phase will see the formation of an international consortium to construct a sub-scale space solar power system that can directly be scaled up by industry. The final stage will entail India-US leadership to set up an international for-profit consortium along the lines of the INTELSAT model to address energy security and carbon mitigation concerns.
Energy and Climate Change
Both India and the United States are among the top five greenhouse gas emitters in the world. Both are under immense pressure to curb their carbon emissions production. While India is being pressurized to cut back on its carbon emissions resulting from its rapidly growing industrial and power sector, the United States is constantly being reminded of its historical responsibility to reduce its carbon emissions.
India needs to expand its power generation capacity in order to maintain a high economic growth rate and improve the living standards of its billion plus population. While India is immensely blessed in terms of solar energy resources, the problem land availability to execute large-scale solar energy power plants is one of the major hurdles in a comprehensive solar energy infrastructure expansion.
Space-based solar power, therefore, seems to be a great choice for India. Space-based solar collectors placed in a geostationary orbit can collect solar radiation for 99 percent time of the year and even during the night. This radiation would be then transmitted to ground-based collectors in the form of microwaves. These microwaves would have far more energy than the normal radiation we receive on the earth’s surface.
Such a project can reap tremendous scientific and strategic benefits for both the countries. India is an emerging global power especially in Asia, looking to counter China’s increasing influence and might in the region. United States is desperately looking for new partners in Asia as Japan seems no longer capable of countering China’s increasing economic, military and strategic prowess.
The author of the report has specified that in order to ensure the successful execution of this ambitious program India would have to sign the Missile Technology Control Regime which prevents the proliferation of missile technology. India has thus far refused to sign the MTCR. Perhaps, realizing the strategic and energy-related advantages of this projects the two countries can work out a solution similar to the Indo-US nuclear deal which gave India access to nuclear fuel and technology even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
India and the United States have long history of space science cooperation. The United States helped the Indian Space Research Organization to help launch some of India’s earliest satellites in 1970s. Earlier this year, the two countries signed a historic agreement allowing ISRO to launch non-commercial, US-made satellites. It was NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper riding on India’s first unmanned moon orbiter, Chandryaan-1, that detected the presence of water ice on the moon in 2009.
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.
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