Researchers from Washington State University have published a paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology stating that energy from solar winds could replace conventional forms of renewable energy produced on Earth such as solar, wind and biofuel power. In the article, the scientists theorize that a giant solar sail, designed to harness solar winds, could generate 1 billion gigawatts of electricity.
If implemented, these Dyson-Harrop satellites (named after the inventors) could tap a solar resource containing 100 billion times as much power as the Earth currently needs. The only problem is how to get the energy from space to Earth. Oh, and the fact that the solar sail would have to be 8,400-kilometer (5,220 miles) wide.
Solar wind sails work by pointing a .4-inch-wide copper wire attached to the sail at the sun. This wire, which can be up to half a wire in length, then generates a magnetic field that captures electrons found in solar winds throughout the Solar System. These particles are in turn funneled into a spherical receiver, which then produces a current.
The massive amounts of energy it produces could then be transferred to collectors on space stations, satellites, moon bases or the Earth via powerful infrared laser beams. In fact, a network of satellites could be set up to transfer the energy from the solar sail back to collectors on Earth. In theory, it would be much cheaper than setting up solar stations on the Moon or in space, which is another theory put forward by the Japanese.
“It’s quite amazing how much power it can actually produce,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a co-author of the paper. “In principle it should work quite well, but there are some practical issues.” No kidding.
Lead image © Nasa