Solar Dreams

It’s always interesting to think outside the box – perhaps even to think about futuristic concepts.

There’s little doubt that current efforts to harness the sun to generate electricity are expensive and largely unproductive.

But, what if there was a way to really harness sunlight to generate electricity?

This came up recently with a discussion of sustainability and an elevator to the sky using ultra-light weight buckyball-carbon structures.  

Interestingly, the National Security Space Office issued a report in October 2007 that proposed Space Based Solar Power (SBSP), using satellites.

The report said:

“Place very large solar arrays into continuously and intensely sunlit Earth orbit (1,366 watts/m2), collect gigawatts of electrical energy, electromagnetically beam it to Earth, and receive it on the surface for use either as baseload power via direct connection to the existing electrical grid, conversion into manufactured synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, or as low‐intensity broadcast power beamed directly to consumers.”

“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.”

At the time, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, chairman of the spaceflight advocacy group ShareSpace Foundation, said, “This is a solution for all mankind.”

Not much has happened since the report was issued, other than some attempts to involve the public and raise money for prototypes, but the idea is an intriguing vision.

Obviously there are a large number of technical, financial and risk issues surrounding the vision.

And, it’s a vision that’s not likely to materialize any time soon.

On the other hand, it has nearly as much merit as current efforts to spend money on solar power with equipment based on Earth.

It is, however, the type of vision that captures the imagination, and which could become a reality in the next century.

It’s also a vision that eliminates fear of running out of oil and other natural resources. It squelches Malthusian thinking. It’s also another reason for continuing with space exploration.

 

The report is available at:

http://spacesolarpower.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/final-sbsp-interim-assessment-release-01.pdf

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