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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SPACE SOLAR POWER

Several people recently sent me a couple of articles on Solar Space Power (SSP), or Solar Power in Space, as it was called a long time ago.  Simply, a photovoltaic system (other options can of course be used to convert sunlight into electricity--but PV is lighter), is used as in NASA's Suntower concept:


A 1999 article projected operation by 2015.  Fanciful, right?  Well, maybe not.  Read on.  Imagine each pair of 100-150 meter diameter solar collectors (a polymer film is used to concentrate the light to a highly efficient PV cell) stretching 22 miles, producing 1200 megawatts.  The facility would be in geosynchronous orbit (22,300 miles) and beam down the energy using a microwave emitter or laser, to a rectenna that would need to be 10-15 miles in diameter as such:


A price tag of from $1billion to $2 billion was mentioned as the price, producing electricity for 5 cents/kWh.  Futuristic energy concepts have a way of enhancing reality.

Here is a comparison of carbon dioxide emissions:


The idea for SSP might have first been mentioned in 1941 by Isaac Asimov in his short story, Reason.  In 1967 British television adapted his story in the "The Prophet," a program in the television series Out of the Unknown

It was in the mid-1970's that I loosely had a relationship with Peter Glaser of A.D. Little on his patent for this technology.  Our birthdates were one day apart, except he was born 17 years earlier.  This means he will be 90 this year.  When I worked in the U.S. Senate from 1979-82, the U.S. Department of Energy actually spent $50 million on his idea.  President Ronald Reagan killed the project and tried to decimate the entire solar program too.

In  1997 NASA took a fresh look at the feasibility of this solar option, and focused on bringing down the cost of transporting equipment into space.  Pete Worden, though, claimed that SSP was five orders of magnitude (note:  this means 100,000 times, not five) more expensive than solar power from the Arizona desert.  He was then with the U.S. Air Force, and is now director of the NASA Ames Research Center, where I once worked.  I can't imagine that his attitude has shifted much.  I, too, have felt that anything on a large scale dealing with space is too dangerous and too expensive, especially when your final product is energy, which is still relatively cheap.  The International Space Station is a $150 billion (the entire Apollo Man on the Moon Project cost $25 billion,  which is worth $100 billion today, but in those days space had everything to do with the Cold War) white elephant, and has not produced one commercial product:  


Japan announced a $21 billion Solar Power Station in Space to beam power to 294,000 Tokyo homes by 2030.  Their plan is to have a 1000 MW system producing electricity at 9 cents/kWh.  Tokyo Electric Power today charges 28 cents/kWh.  Here is this New Sunshine Program Grand Design:


The four latest efforts are:
  • The U.S. Navy would like to beam down energy from orbiting solar panels (right).
  • Shimizu Corporation of Japan has a 6,800 mile long by 12 mile wide solar strip planned for installation across the equator of the Moon, sending back 13,000,000,000 MW of electricity.  How fanciful is this?  The U.S. summer generation is 1,051,000 MW.  But here is their system anyway:
  • More realistically, but still amazing, PG&E has a contract to in 2016 purchase from Solaren Corporation 200 MW of SSP.  

Pardon me for showing some skepticism, but the company only has 20 technical personnel.  It's beyond my imagination that the cost of placing their solar system in orbit and selling electricity in a little more than 2 years be accomplished with profit.  Just the environmental impact process will take a decade!!!  Nevertheless, they expect to beam 24 hours/day with a 97% power capacity, and hope to double production in time to support 250,000 homes.  I would love to be proven wrong.

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4 comments:

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Large businesses need to demonstrate the use of solar power and then others will follow suit

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