Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Sep 05

A Step Closer to Solar Power in Space

Posted in Energy Inventions | Future Technology | Solar Power

Space Solar Power Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and IHI Corporation are undertaking an ambitious project of $ 21bn. They are aspiring to design and develop a Space-based solar farm that would generate 1GW of power. This will require an area of four square kilometer consisting of rows of solar panels. This space solar farm will be housed 36,000km above the surface of the earth.

The idea of generating solar power from space has been gathering momentum for quite some time. And various alternative energy companies are investing substantial amount of money in this concept. The advantages of harnessing solar energy from space are many. Solar energy in space is ten times more than on the planet earth. In space there are no nights and no weather changes. The wear and tear will be less too because of lack of humidity, rain, storm or friction.

This 21bn power project has a timeline of three decades. Before wetting their feet fully, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will go for a small 10MW demonstration satellite which would have solar panels. This smaller project would be completed in 2015. This experimental project will first test the water before taking the whole plunge. They will also test the systems used to beam energy from space to ground-based receivers. Once fully developed the plant will generate about 1GW of solar power on the ground. It could be a base load resource instead of an intermittent source of power.

This amount of power can meet the energy needs of about 294,000 Tokyo homes on an average.

In fact base load issues are one the last hurdles when we talk about many forms of renewable energy. But the million dollar question to tackle is how to get the power from the solar panels affixed upon the orbiting platforms back to Earth? Currently the existing knowledge says that one can convert it into radio frequency energy for transmission. We can install a receiving station on the earth, which then converts it back into electricity.

If successful, the pilot project could deal with certain concerns such as the use of environmentally sensitive areas for extensive solar farms. However, they have to tackle one more issue: the energy required to produce and put these solar panels into space versus the amount of energy they may generate. One of the solutions can be that they can utilize the concept of space elevators.

A division of JAXA, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) has already prepared a prototype of the SPS2000, a 10 megawatt demonstration solar-power satellite.

ISAS is also undertaking a project where an experimental satellite will be tested for wireless power supply of several hundred kilowatts. Ground experiments are being held for scrutinizing the influence of high-voltage discharge which is a sheer necessity for large-capacity power generation in space. They are also spending time on the impact of space debris on the solar farm.

  • David

    I think it’s an extraordinary idea, but also I’m agree with the article, they have a big problem with the power transmission. I believe it’s really difficult. It’s a challenge, and I like it. I believe that there is the future.

  • rao shivakumar vallak

    It is a wonderful idea, except that we don’t have the technology to transfer such huge amounts safely to terra firma. But if we can divide these units to smaller units, probably we can develop a bigger safer system later on.

  • Ray

    Electric utility companies should be required to install and maintain photovoltaic panels on anyone’s roof. This would take the burden off of property owners and would provide much needed additional solar capacity. The property owner would pay no electric bill in exchange for the use of their roofs.

  • Bill Wood

    Solar Power satellites will prove to be a big winner for humanity. The satellites can supply as much green power as anyone on the globe needs on demand 24/7 which is something no other green power source can do. That will generate a stream of revenue which will create a space faring economy and sustain the human migration from the planet. Solar Power Satellites will do more than any other technology to enable humanity to preserve this blue jewel by moving as much of the population and industrial infrastructure off the planet as possible.

  • Bill Wood

    There is no evidence that transmission will be a problem.

    Microwave receivers can be spread over a large area. They might consist of a large number of Dish TV size dishes on on top of telephone polls spaced at a surprising distance from each other. The power will arrive at a low, safe density and be collected by a large number of small antennas which should not be very intrusive or bothersome.

  • max

    We are going after a heat source in space… what about the earths interior – and those hot spots like yellowstone? drill in and get steam from magma?

  • Ashlee

    The idea is plausible and pioneering – there is no pollution, no real weather changes and solar radiation is readily available. However, there are major costs involved when developing solar PV in space and there must be extreme economic changes brought about to enable such an advanced move. Not only economic stability, but social equality – so that we can all find a common ground and reasoning behind why we NEED green energy for the future of the free world. Then, maybe then, space-based solar power will make its way to the mainstream.

  • Libra58

    I agree with Max. The japanese have access to geothermal power. It is so much cheaper to drill holes in the ground admittedly deep ones than sending stuff to space not even mentioning the cost of possible repair or maintenance.

  • webweaver

    Max – I agree that we need to explore energy resources within the earth. The electric energy generated by the combination of external sources such as the solar wind and internal forces including the dynamo action at the earths core create vast amounts, much of which can be captured at or just below the earth surface. EVERYONE – Watch for further information on ways we can do this. Imagine free energy from your backyard!

    Cheers from webweaver

  • Tharindu Magedara

    If not for the fact that it takes up higher capital and takes a long time, i think it’s a fantastic idea.

  • Peter Sharma

    The last thing we need is high power EM Rads being blasted to the surface. This space based energy production stuff is a non-starter from a public health perspective.

  • Cyril R.

    21 billion for 1 GW electric is 21 dollars per Watt. By 2030. About ten times the cost of a modern coal fired powerplant.

    This is not a competitive cost target. 2030 cost targets for alternatives are many times lower.

    This is a serious case of NIMLI: Not In My Lifetime.

  • taurus95

    Max and people that agree with him – digging to get this magma to create steam like you suggested isn’t completely practical. Geothermal is not very efficient at all.

    I too believe that solar panels (or even solar cells) are important for the future. Installing houses with them is not only practical but a worthwhile investment for the future. People should take it upon themselves to PERSONALLY take a step in the right direction.

  • Boneheaded1

    Taurus is right. Partially. Everyone needs to stop saying one technology is better than the other. No ONE technology will replace fossil fuels. Rather it will take multiple generation technologies working as a group.

    The two most popular at the moment; solar & wind are not a constant. Solar is good as it generates during peak need hours. Wind because the technology is relatively mature, is easy to harvest and can come close to competing on a cost basis with fossils. However, we need more. We need technologies that can produce 24 hours a day. The world is moving towards, plug-in hybrids and ev’s. This will increase power needs at night when they all will be charging.

    To say geo-thermal is not efficient is not true. It depends on the location for the most part. Calpine owns a geo-thermal plant at The Geysers in Sonoma County, CA. This plant is a cash cow for the company. The company went bankrupt because it also had natural gas power plants and negotiated bad contracts for gas prices. If not for the Geo-thermal plant, the company would have folded instead of being able to restructure itself.

    Geo-thermal is not a good idea for anywhere. It requires that the area be geologically active close enough to the surface for it to be worth the investment.

    As to the idea of generating solar from space. We have way too much space junk floating in space already. All it takes is a paint chip from a destroyed satellite that is moving at 10,000 miles per hour and the solar generating satellite is out of commission. Not just a possibility but probable unless put in a high orbit. This is not a bad idea, but we aren’t quite there yet. The money and resources that will go into this should be applied to other technologies (cellulosic ethanol, algal bio-diesel for example).

  • Mustard

    The video is very misleading. This type of satellite would have to be in a geosynchronous orbit, and yet the promotional video show it in low earth orbit. I would think this extra altitude (35,800 vs. 300km) may cause extra transmission problems.

    My question would be, what happens to a satellite in low earth orbit that passes through the energy transmission beam of the solar power generation satellite orbiting above it?

    As said before, at $21 per watt, this should stay a pipe dream.

  • Peter Vandaele

    I agree with Boneheaded1 that the future will not yield one ultimate green energy technology.

    The idea is very tempting. Two small thoughts: in the past a lot of ideas surrounding the generation of vast amounts of energy have been re-used in what we have done very successfully throughout our history: making weapons. Especially the idea of huge amounts of energy being targeted towards earth. Second, if we want to really have 24/7 energy, i think a more global energy network would be appropriate. Not an expert at all on it but maybe here superconducting can help?

    Both points bring forward the idea that a truly green energy future will be possible only if we work together on a global scale, for developing the technologies, making the necessary investments and combining different sources of energy together for all mankind.

  • kelly arthur

    This is a terrific idea. Finally! Somebody is doing something about it! It’s only been on the shelf since 1968. The biggest drawback I see is the insistence on using PV cells rather than much simpler & lighter Mylar mirror/helium turbine design… 1GW =150m diam Mylar mirror, which weighs, oh, 50pd. A turbine weighs maybe 5000pd. Even allowing for error, what is that, one STS load? Fly it now!

    “Death ray” claims are ridiculous. As are “NIMI” claims. It beats terrestrial PV hollow: terrestrial only gets 10% of the sun’s energy, max, at source, & only in daylight. Not to mention it PERMANENTLY puts millions of acres in shadow. (Boy, that’s eco-friendly…)

  • SnakeEater

    The transmission is for control purpose and not a technical problem. Allow everyone to owned the device that can receive the energy wirelessly and the transmission problem does not exist at all.

    This is the same problem face by Nikola Tesla when he built his wardenclyffe. Banker stop financing him because there is no way to meter the usage without a power grid. Energy will be free only when the money creator found an alternative to summon human needs like food an water.

  • tommyBoy

    I have to disagree that no ONE technology will ever come along and replace fossil fuels. As of right now, then yes there is no cost effective replacement for fossil fuels. Technology changes rapidly. At any one instance of time, it is truly impossible to predict future developments of technology. There are people who said computers and airplanes had limited practical use, that after 1898 we wouldn’t need a patent office, and that video games are just a “fad.” I do agree that it will take time but you never know. One can only speculate.

  • Nix

    Space Elevator Games are underway right now and I believe there was a success.

    If a proper cable could be made, perhaps it could house a superconductor inside or if carbon nanotubes could be used direct transmission of the energy would be possible. Not to mention getting the panels up to space would be much more cost effective and continually expandable. Maintenance would be easy.

    The energy production is constant, if the moneys available, whatever the cost, it would eventually pay for itself.

    Don’t forget the problems of cooling terrestrial solar PVs too. I think this is a great idea.

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