Japan Plans $21 Billion Solar Space Post to Power 294,000 Homes

by , 09/01/09
filed under: Environment, Solar Power

solar power, space, japan, energy

The concept of space-based solar power was introduced way back in 1968, but it’s only recently that the world has latched on to the idea. Japan is definitely getting in on the action with its latest spacey plan – a $21 billion solar-powered generator in the heavens to produce one gigawatt of energy, or enough to power 294,000 homes. The Japanese government announced the plan back in June, but there has been an important new development – Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and industrial design company IHI Corp. are now teaming up in the race to develop new technology within four years that can beam electricity back to Earth without the use of cables.

solar power, solar energy, space, japan

Mitsubishi and IHI are joining a research group containing 14 other countries to tackle the daunting task of getting Japan’s four square kilometer solar space station up and running in the next three decades. By 2015, the Japanese government hopes to test a small satellite decked out with solar panels that beams power through space and back to Earth.

There are still a number of hurdles to work through before space-based solar power becomes a reality though. Transportation of the solar panels into space is too expensive at the moment to be commercially viable, so Japan has to figure out a way to lower costs. Even if costs are lowered, solar stations will have to worry about damage from micrometeoroids and other flying objects. Still, space-based solar operates perfectly under all weather conditions, unlike Earth-based panels that are at the mercy of the clouds.

Japan isn’t the only country in the race for space power. Solaren and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric utility are working together on a project to deliver 200 megawatts of power from space over a 15-year period that begins in 2015.

Via Bloomberg

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  1. biomeadows December 22, 2011 at 3:37 am

    to those who don`t know how we can beam energy wireleslly i suggest they read more about microwaves and their capabilities to beam immense amount of energy to what ever location we want . you just should have some form of collectors on earth to gather all that energy .it is really frustrating to see how ignorant people are

  2. kurotsuki March 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I’m practically surprised when lots of people have a negative thinking about this. If you really worried about EM polutions, then why don’t you just shutoff your cellphones, your radar, and any device which used EM transmission and let see if you can keepup your life without them. A miss on projection path? Have you ever think about a miss on nuclear reactor’s coolant. What would likely happen? You know it right? Then why you still use it dispite off your disagree on them?
    Besides, look at japan now. When a cathastrophe land on them, their reactor must be shutdown and people still worried about radioactive radiation. If this happened with the SBSP, when the receiver damaged, they can terminate the sending process at the satellite without worries about radioactive. Have you all emagine it?

  3. Massive Lunar Solar Pow... October 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    […] This massive astral power tower just won the 2010 Moon Capital International Design Challenge. Designed by Bryna Anderson, a graduate student from Columbia University, the concept is based on American physicist Dr. David Criswell’s proposal for a Lunar Solar Power System. It works by collecting energy on the lunar surface using photovoltaic converters and then transmitting it to Earth via microwave generators. […]

  4. teknojo August 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Short term exposure to the EM radiation that these satellites would be putting out would not cause you any more harm then walking around near an airport or watching your popcorn pop. If the power beam wandered off course enough to hit a populated area (likely hood they would put the receivers near a populated area initially is small, think power plant of any kind then think NIMBY) the people there would possibly loose some of there electronics and (if they were in the beam for a while) MIGHT feel surgically embedded metals heat up. But they would be able to walk away from the area and be fine.

    We are already continuously pumping high frequency EM radiation into our atmosphere. Those spinning things on top of airport control towers and on the masts of ships? Radars! They keep your airplanes from crashing into one another and allow ships to see each other and objects even at night. We have been dumping incredible amounts of radiation all across the EM spectrum into our atmosphere for a hundred plus years now.

    I am far more worried about the already proven consequences of fossil fuel burning. Not even talking green house effect here. I am talking carcinogens, polluted waterways, fuel fires, toxic gas leaks, oil spills, mountains gone (literally entire mountains!) for the mining of coal.

    The costs of space based solar will drop over time and cost is the only real argument against it, all others are refutable. The costs of continuing to use fossil fuels and even nuclear energy will just continue to grow. Fossil fuel will run out. Nuclear waste needs to go somewhere. Space based solar doesn\’t end and produces no toxic waste byproduct. What is so difficult about this decision?

  5. Science-guru May 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    I am going to live underground.

  6. Bobinator March 19, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I remember reading about this in, I think, the late 70’s or early 80’s in Popular Science or some such. They were going to convert electrical energy into microwaves, beam the microwaves to an area where there were collectors designed to turn the microwaves back into electricity. I wondered at the time what would happen to birds that were flying over the area, let alone if the several-kilometer-big receiver panel in orbit got off track. Of course they could turn it off, but it begs the question if this is the easiest and most efficient way to get electricity. Almost certainly not. By the time this thing pays for itself (at over $71,000 per household, it would take generations), other forms of renewable electricity will have been invented.

  7. mediaman December 31, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    This idea to beam high energy through our precious atmosphere is giving me the willies.

    Not only are we heating it up but God only knows whether this and other space-based solar plans just might finish us off burning holes in our fragile atmosphere.

    Thing is: nobody knows what will happen.

    John in Marin County, CA

  8. smartalec44 September 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Why isn’t anyone ever concerned about the human health hazards of all this electro-magnetic radiation especially with the talk of wireless electricity from the WITRICITY.

    Could you imagine having all this radiation frying our brains while they transmit this wireless electricity to our homes, cars,cell phones and computers.

    I think the NWO(descendents of the Rothchilds & Rockefellers) would escape to their secret underground cities while the general population eventually dies of brain cancer.

    Dirty electricity generated by florescent lights,computers,photocopy machines etc. has already been demonstrated to cause (EHS) Electrical Hyper Sensitivity in certain school buildings.

  9. Atlanta SEO September 22, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I saw the write up and the testing of this later on a Discovery or Nat Geo type show, believe the first working model was with a US/Japanese team near Hawaii where they transmitted the micros long distance. The science and model seems solid – it doesn’t heat anything up or anything crazy like that, as a matter of fact, one of the problems seemed to be keeping the waves focused, and from dissipating, but it worked and what I read of it later seems pretty impressive. Compare this to wide-scale burning of fossil fuels, and I’m not sure why some people are so resistant. And yeah I know it’s expensive to start up.
    I really believe too, that if it even starts to get us looking elsewhere than just burning up what we have here, it’s a good first step. I know that it may not be cost-efficient at first either – but you know, I remember my dad bringing home a VCR in the 80’s for about $1500 when we first got one, and about 6 months ago, I got one of those VCR + DVD combos to watch some old tapes for about $79, and we’re not even considering dollar devaluation there, either! =)
    I still think they need to keep an eye on doing it right (recyclable rocket usage, keeping an eye on all the space junk in orbit, etc…) but it’s like people that are against any further space exploration, and forget that if we didn’t continue to move forward in outward directions we wouldn’t have things like GPS when they’re lost in the middle of nowhere, or a cell phone to call for a tow/911 at an accident, etc. It’s this kind of technology that turns into something else more efficient down the road…

  10. NivenScience September 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Also my thanks to Mr. Strickland for the informative post.

    Why was the post by ivancho that pointed out that “As for the Solaren project, the only webpage for the company that I found is http://www.solarenspace.com/ , which is completely empty… ” censored?

    Just curious.

  11. Magilla Guerilla September 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Wow – what an amazing combination of truly superb posts (w00t John Strickland) and posts showing the reader’s absolute failure to comprehend the technology being discussed. Nice to know that ignorance never keeps an induhvidual from expressing an opinion. And Big Boy – what do you think of Preparation H – on the whole? 😛

  12. ubikk September 4, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Techically speaking, it would be a MASER beam as opposed to a Laser.

    “How exactly do you “beam” power back to the earth? As polarized concentrated light energy, in the form of a laser perhaps?”

  13. Big Boy September 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    sharks with fricken laser beams

  14. Mothra September 2, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    When the beam (inevitably) strays off target, it will of course impact and awaken Godzilla.

    Tokyo is doomed. But then again, with morons like that, so much the better.

  15. Jack Oke September 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Dead Unicorns and geokstr:

    The power will be beamed back as microwave energy.


    There are a number of choices they have in providing a feedback signal that will cut off the beam if it starts to wander.

  16. NivenScience September 2, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Microwave beaming of power is the standard assumption. This would neither “heat up the Earth” or “fry Australia”. It’s about time some country got serious about a technology that could, eventually, become the sole source of electricalpower for our planet.

  17. John Strickland September 2, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Privatization – how can you privatize the military? This example makes no sense. On the other hand, some services provided by governments in some areas and private companies in other areas have gotten cheaper. One example is electrical power before fossil fuel prices started to rise, the rise driven both by demand and govenment restrictions on energy use. Also, look at the price of computer CPU’s and computer memory. A VCR cost about 1/4 Million dollars to TV Studios when they were first invented. Now no one wants them.

    Getting to orbit: Why is access to Earth orbit so expensive? The government space access system uses very expensive rockets which are thrown away (they smash into the ocean and sink in lots of little pieces), The big companies who build these rockets want to keep building them, so they have tried to stop the new companies, which want to build rockets which can be re-used, just like airplanes, from getting a share of the government’s business. This transistion is about to occur – the big companies are losing the political battle to stop re-usable rockets from being used by the government.

    Transmittting Power: Yes, lasers are rather inefficient at transmitting power. The best model is still the use of those old-fashioned radio waves called microwaves, just like the ones in your kitchen. However, all the scare stories about beams frying people are just that- scare stories. The actual beam would be 1/4 as strong as sunlight, and at a frequency which reduced its interaction with rain and water. However the beam is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so area for area on the ground, you get twice as much energy from the space solar beam as you do from actual direct sunlight.

    Yes they can: The ability of microwaves to transmitt energy efficiently (over 80%, which is better than some long distance transmission paths through wires) has been proved multiple times. The Goldstone test in 1978 proved it once, The Discovery channel show in 2008 proved it again. If you do not think energy can be transmitted by photons or waves, then how come the sun keeps the earth warm and growing. The key is being able to convert a large portion of the micro-wave energy directly into electricity. This has been done, and done, and done. The data is out there on the Internet for any doubters. Any more questions on this would be like a creationist asking for just one more missing link!

    How it works: The solar photons hit the photovolatic collector (film) surface in Geosynchronous Orbit (the same orbit the comsats use). All the solar sats can use the same frequency since no information is being transmitted, just power. The electricity from the collector surfaces is conducted to a transmitter dish about 1/2 to 1 km in diameter. The power sats are large but very light – almost gossamer, since they do not have to stand up to large forces. The power is converted to microwaves at 2.45 Gigahertz freqeuency. The power beam spreads out to a few miles wide when it hits the ground. The reciever consists of an oval array of inexpensive TV-antenna-like dipoles aimed at the beam. The very high-frequency power collected on the ground is converted to 60-cycle alternating current before being sent onto the grid.

    Personal POV: I am not against ground solar and wind. I was interested in ground solar before I heard of space solar. I am retired and have no financial intererst in any space or energy company. We have real choices to make in our energy future. Space solar is just one of those choices, but it does offer a gigantic source of energy which produces no greenhouse gases and is ideal to replace fossil fuel generated electricity.
    Just keep an open mind and pay attention to economic issues for both ground and space based power choices.

  18. shaddo September 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    ras, most of us know that 21 billion is 21,000,000,000. Your answer should be $71,000,000 (for the life of the project). It’s pretty much meaningless because it’s R & D. If it’s successful, economies of scale will prevail.

  19. geokstr September 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    How exactly do you “beam” power back to the earth? As polarized concentrated light energy, in the form of a laser perhaps? I can’t think of any other methods of “transmitting” energy without cables, since it’s the only way to keep a beam of anything tightly focused, isn’t it? Electricity doesn’t lend itself to “beaming” does it?

  20. ras September 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    $21,000,000 / 294,000 homes = $71,000 per home!

  21. alexjameslowe September 2, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    It always surprises me how many people are convinced that space-based solar power is going to somehow ‘heat up’ the planet. This is not the case- the energy incident on space-based solar arrays would enter the earth’s atmosphere *whether the solar collectors are there or not*.

    In other words, the solar collectors would not somehow “add” extra energy to the earth that would not have been there before. In fact, because they could never be 100% efficient, some of the energy would be absorbed as heat by space-based solar arrays and never radiated to earth at all.

    This is the most plausible near-term replacement for fossil fuels, and the only other alternative is a massive skewing towards nuclear energy. Take your pick.

  22. Scott W. Somerville September 2, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Oh, come on! Are we really going to worry about importing “extra heat from space”? Japan has no fossil fuels and precious little firewood. Can’t we cut them a little slack and let them beam down extra sunlight?

  23. jpdav September 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Sure, let’s shoot an energy beam capable of powering 294,000 homes down to Earth from space.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    I suppose you might get the aim off by a millionth of a degree and burn down Australia, but that seems to be unlikely to happen, and I’m sure everyone would feel suitably bad about it.

  24. Dead_Unicorns September 2, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I keep asking people to think. There is a great deal of difference between a research project and a deployed real-world technology.

    Of course Mitsubishi et al are going to jump on this and talk up its benefits and feasibility, there is $21 billion dollars in it for them, even if it doesn’t work!

    Let’s look at reality for a minute. We can’t reliably or cost effectively transmit power for 2,000 miles using wires. How is it that we will miraculously be able to transmit power for 22,000 miles? After they build a space station that is 1.5 square miles in size?

    Besides all that, it still isn’t going to be enough power. Everyone knows that we need 1.21 gigawatts!!!!

  25. Raygam September 2, 2009 at 10:25 am

    To John Strickland:

    Why do you believe privatization drives cost downward? Many examples prove this to be untrue. Education, health care, military, and banking. Not only didn’t they reduce cost but in many cases drove the cost upward and additionally service and quality suffered.. Anyway who do you think pays the bills for the charter schools run by private companies, Medicaid, the mercenaries, like Black Water, and pays to guarantee the student loans…why I do believe its the government. In all of these cases the government could have provided the services better and for less. Big business wants privatization for two reasons; no competition from the government and who ever provides the “private service” is usually paid by the government (taxpayer).

  26. John Strickland September 2, 2009 at 12:58 am

    The extra heat from Space Solar fallacy has been around for over 30 years. If you compare a ground solar and a space solar plant, the ground solar plant dumps 80% of the heat that hits it directly into the atmosphere, while only 20% or less is converted to electricity. The space plant, since it is in space, dumps its 80% of waste heat by radiating it back into space, far away from the Earth. Then it sends down to Earth almost all of the remaining 20% of power as usable electricity via the power beam.

    Yes, of course, right now, with government-controlled space programs costing as much as 50 Million dollars a ton to put anything into orbit, Space Solar would be very expensive. However, (1) privatization of launch services will get those costs down if the government will get out of the way. (2) the space plant is about 8-10 times more valuable than the equivalent ground plant, since it can provide power 24/7, while the ground plant can on average provide power about 25% of the time. In the winter, this could be as little as 12% of the time, even in many southern US cities, and maybe about 6% in the north. The rest of the time all those thousands of square miles of expensive solar collectors are sitting idle – at night or under a cloud deck!

    The ground solar plant thus can not provide base load power unless it is about 8-10 times bigger than a day-time only plant, and then it needs a huge energy storage system. We are talking about ground solar sites covering hundreds of square miles for a single large city. (Since the sun shines in Geostationary Orbit essentially all the time, the space plant needs no storage.) The only other option is to burn fossil fuel when the sun is unavailable, and avoiding use of fossil fuel is one of the primary justifications for the use of expensive solar energy.

  27. ivancho September 1, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Please do more research on the topics you present. Reporting a project as “$21 Billion”, when the only source of that figure is one of the researchers who said “the project might end up costing as much as …” is not reliable.

    As for the Solaren project, the only webpage for the company that I found is http://www.solarenspace.com/ , which is completely empty… considering they are supposed to launch 1 Million pounds of solar panels into space by 2016, I am understandably suspicious. As you should have been too, before copy/pasting the whole story.

  28. Anonlol September 1, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    … wtf. One degree off and they could cause mass destruction.

  29. jazzmann91 September 1, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    How will they return the energy to space after we’re done with it?

    Please think ahead before spending ridiculous amounts of money on a project that will add to our collective doom. When we take energy from space that normally wouldn’t enter the Earth’s already overabundant energy reserves we add additional strain to the growing problem of overheating our planet.

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