Jorge Chapa

Solar Satellites Could Beam Gigawatts of Energy from Space

by , 10/20/08

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Ben Bova, the president emeritus of the National Space Society, recently suggested an incredible solution to the world’s energy crisis. Instead of taking solar panels and sticking them on your roof, he wants to send photovoltaic arrays off into space and beam solar energy down to earth. Since they are constantly exposed to the sun, such solar power satellites could provide a continuous stream of 5-10 gigawatts of energy!

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In a recent Washington Post article Mr. Bova explains that the technology is not as farfetched as one would think. We already know how to send materials into space, and we have built large superstructures in zero-gravity environments (think the space station), so perhaps building a giant solar collector in space is not entirely out of the question.

His proposal is to build and launch solar power satellites – large photovoltaic arrays that constantly convert sunlight into electricity and use microwaves to beam that energy back to earth-bound receiving stations. According to Mr Bova, a single one of these satellites would send enough energy to power all of California. Since one would need a large surface to collect all of this energy, the best locations for receiving stations are dry areas such as the Nevada Desert or the Sahara.

Although the costs involved are fairly astronomical, the technology exists today, and this is not the first space-bound solar proposal that we have seen. So, what do you think – should someone give it a try?

+ Ben Bova

+ Washington Post

Via Treehugger

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8 Comments

  1. My-kull October 24, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I think this can be viewed from a different (and optimistic) perspective. Forget about the immediate start up cost of putting these satellites into space and any maintenance…once we potentially have \\\\\\\’unlimited\\\\\\\’ energy from the sun, many costs will become obsolete for us. Since one of the limiting factors for EVERYTHING done on Earth is energy, once we have this free energy, we can start making complimentary technologies that can harness electrical energy for its tasks. Most industrial operations will have almost zero cost because with free energy, there is no restriction on how much or how fast we can produce it, even if the process is not the currently \\\\\\\’most efficient way\\\\\\\’. With unlimited energy, a primary concern will not be the feasibility of a process, that will come with time and research. We can harness the benefits of less than optimal process and advance from there. We wouldn\\\\\\\’t even need to work a job for \\\\\\\’money\\\\\\\’ anymore because all of the things we need will be provided at no cost. Food can be grown in green houses, transportation (with electric cars that require very little maintenance) will not be a problem. Highspeed MagLev trains, running on electricity of course, will take over air travel that requires fossil fuels. Technologies to clean the air and water and recycle our waste into its core components will not have to be \\\\\\\’energy efficient\\\\\\\’ but will STILL give us great benefit. Also, those technologies would not have to be as efficient because we have reduced our pollution output so there will be a “net cleaning” effect of all current technologies.
    And with unlimited energy, can there even be a cost charged?
    I am a firm believer that by solving the energy production issue, all other problems will be solved in time.

  2. eriknbrooklyn October 21, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    beam energy down to earth? isn’t that like a persistent bolt of lightning hitting the ground without end? We should tether smaller arrays to the earth with incredibly long carbon-steel cables. that way we wouldn’t have to blacken parts of the planet for this method, and they would also help to shade the earth, preferably in its hottest places.

  3. angelinalove October 21, 2008 at 8:52 am

    If we people would become active and responsible towards our nature never we will feel any loss in nay form of energy. We should use solar energy as much as possible acoording to our scientist who has made each and every possibilty to root out our problems. If solar energy will constantly convert in electrical energy no need to spend coal and water unnecessary.

  4. Jesseneale1 October 20, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I can see this solution being more commercially viable for energy companies in the future, if they are forced to reduce coal usage. While making buildings energy self sufficient is complete common sense and logically should be done, there is no money to be outsourced on that. The private collection, distribution and sale of solar power is unethical but probable and this kind of enterprise encourages exactly that. The new revolution in public perception on fossil fuels is an amazing chance for the betterment of humankind, clean cheap energy. We have to be careful that we are not cheated out of that.

  5. earthsmile October 20, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I’ve been aware of the 2 Space Solar Power prototypes that NASA keeps ‘on the shelf’ since reading about them in the Richard Wagner book, ‘Designs on Space’ (2000). I thought it was a great idea at that time. Now,I believe that solar arrays orbiting at 40,000 feet, or higher, supported by ‘weather Ballon’ type derigibles would be a better way to go. Much easier to service, etc. Cheaper too. It’s also important to recognize that the ‘Carlyle Group’ has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the ‘nanosolar’ company. The ‘nanosolar’ breakthrough solar panel technology reduces the cost of generating electricity to less than it costs to produce the same of electricity from coal !!!! So there will be ‘nanosolar’ power plants online soon. See: (Add your own: http://www. > to both !)

  6. mbartosik October 20, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    What\’s the difference between this and a huge \”death ray\” that you can point at your enemies and quite literally zap or cook them!

    That\’s quite apart from astronomical cost, and single point of failure problems vs distributed system of solar power on your roof.

  7. stephen October 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    The atmosphere shields the Earth from high energy radiation. This is very good news for living things as it keeps them from being cooked. It is very bad news for people hoping to ‘beam’ energy down from space. This is not a new idea, nor a novel approach. Unless they employ some brilliant new technology, it will be stopped by the same barrier that has been thwarting cosmic rays since long before people grew tired of fossil fuels.

  8. WBrooke October 20, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    This idea is very appealing to technophiles. However this would be (pun intended) astronomically expensive, especially considering that sunlight falls on the ground for free. All we have to do is pick it up and use it. Technologies such as roof-top photovoltaics and solar hot water panels have been available for decades and work very well. Even in drizzly Seattle, more than enought solar power falls on a building (roof and south facade) to keep the occupants happy and productive.

    I think it is much more beneficial to have each building become energy self-sufficient with its own solar power supply than to have a single power plant in orbit beaming power to the surface. Large central power plants are an old model. Distributed generation is more robust and should be the future.

    Orbiting power stations may make a few people very rich, but I think it is un-neccessary. Money would be better spent developing better energy storage technologies.

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