Thursday, October 22, 2009

Space-Based Solar Power



I am reading the book Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, by Stewart Brand. Mr. Brand is the founder of the seminal Whole Earth Catalog.

One of the ideas Mr. Brand discusses for saving our world is space-based solar power. The idea is that satellites carrying large solar panels would orbit earth, placed where they can receive the sun's rays practically 24/7 and unimpeded by our atmosphere. The energy they collect would be transmitted to earth in the form of microwave radiation, from an antenna on the satellite to an antenna on the ground.

Although the book was only published this year, Mr. Brand has already distanced himself from this idea. In his online footnotes (page 81), he quotes alternative power guru Elon Musk as saying that space-based solar power is too expensive and too inefficient to ever be viable. I hope the public has more faith than that in the viability of the electric cars produced by Mr. Musk's Tesla Motors!

At least three companies have enough faith in the viability of space-based solar power to invest in significant development: PowerSat Corporation, Space Energy, and Solaren Corporation (supported by Pacific Gas & Electric). I don't know if this will work out in the end, but it is fascinating technology!

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