Breakthrough in Space-based Solar Power

Everyone knows about the benefits of solar power. The notion probably conjures up images of shiny photovoltaic panels covering rooftops or large stretches of desert.

That's all great, but there are some serious limitations to current technologies for harvesting solar energy on the Earth's surface. For starters, it only works when the sun is out. That means you can't generate electricity at night, in very cloudy conditions, or at high latitudes where the sun's energy striking the earth is weaker. It's also inefficient, which is why it takes so much surface area to generate sufficient power. Despite these limitations, I'm actually a staunch advocate of solar power. That's why I'm currently having panels installed on my roof.

There is much talk in the media lately on the need for clean energy. I'm thrilled that politicians are finally taking the issue seriously. However, the debate on solving our energy crisis has largely ignored the one source that has no drawbacks: space-based solar power. All other forms have problems like greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, hazardous waste from nuclear plants, etc.

A breakthrough in space-based solar power was announced today. Former NASA executive and physicist John Mankins successfully beamed solar energy 92 miles (148 km) from Maui to the island of Hawaii. That's about the same distance as an array of solar panels in orbit would need to send the energy back to earth. The video of the press release announcing the achievement is below:

As a major advocate of space-based solar power, the National Space Society has produced an excellent video aimed at convincing the next president to set our country on a path of developing the technology to solve our energy needs in this century:

This fits in perfectly with Gore's call for clean energy within 10 years.


Larry said...

I would posit that speace-based energy, while promising, has serious potential drawbacks. For instance, maintenance would be very costly and, indeed, energy intensive.
The bottom line is that there is simply no panacea. Solar, wind, nuclear all have their roles. But, in the end, we will have to downsize our per capita energy usage. Increased efficiency, concepts of New Urbanism and, sorry, Jimmy Carter's sweater will all have to be implemented.

brian said...

Larry, thanks for your comment. I agree that there is no panacea to solve our energy needs. You're absolutely right we must reduce our energy usage and plan our cities more intelligently. We must employ a variety of solutions to provide energy such as solar, geothermal, and wind. I'm not in favor of any expansion of nuclear (fission) and would even advocate shutting down nuclear plants as soon as viable renewable alternatives are available. I think generating nuclear waste that our decedents will have to deal with is unethical at best and dangerous to the environment at worst. Don't even get me started about so-called "clean" coal; that shouldn't even be on the table, in my opinion, since we must significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

brian said...

Apparently, the Obama administration is considering space-based solar power because the National Space Security Office recommended it to them. Very interesting...