Solaren Corp. to Launch Solar Panels into Orbit
We keep hearing about harnessing the solar power from space. Some call it tall claims and some dismiss it as too costly an affair or pie in the sky. But it seems that in near future harvesting solar energy from space is becoming a reality. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) from San Francisco is in the energy sector for decades. They have produced power from atomic energy, natural gas and water. Now PG&E has gone ahead and collaborated with Manhattan Beach start-up called Solaren Corporation. But what put this deal apart from others? Actually Solaren Corporation aims to launch a series of giant solar collectors into orbit 23,000 miles above Fresno. They will beam the energy to earth in the form of radio waves. Now PG&E has finalized a contract with Solaren to buy the power on one condition if they can make the technology work.
Gary Spirnak , who is Solaren’s chief executive, shared his thoughts, “There is enormous potential for energy security, economic development, improved environmental stewardship, advancement of general space faring and overall national security for those nations who construct and possess a space-based solar power capability.”
Why should alternative energy people look up to space for generation of power? The first point that goes in favor for solar power from space is it’s a good renewable energy source and always available. That means 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 366 days a year. The sunlight is independent of the earth’s movement and shadow of the moon. We know that solar energy is clean as there are zero carbon emissions. Solaren executives claim that by 2016 they can make the technology operational to harness energy from space. Gary Spirnak commented, “If our numbers are anywhere near where we think they will be, we will be able to provide power at a cost that’s comparable with anything on Earth, that is much cleaner and all from space.” Solaren has an ambitious plan to produce enough electricity for 150,000 homes across much of Northern and Central California. The California Public Utilities Commission is evaluating Solaren’s agreement with PG&E.
How will they achieve such a feat? They will be using four or five rocket launches to install enough solar collectors into a stationary orbit. They are hopeful that it will generate 200 megawatts of power. This will be approximately half the output of a modern fossil fuel plant. They will convert the solar energy into radio waves. These radio waves will be received by a station in Fresno. There it will distributed to end users conventionally using wires and poles.
Spirnak is aware of the fact that nothing of this size has been done, but the basic technology is sound. Our commercial communications satellites have been powered by solar energy for more than four decades. The satellites are already utilizing the solar power.
No one has attempted with larger scale experimental radio transmissions. Jonathan Marshal who is PG&E spokesman acknowledges, “The challenge is putting enough hardware up in space and doing it economically.”
Solaren and PG&E are assuring the buyers of power that they won’t have to pay the price of Solaren’s costs until the company starts streaming power into their homes and businesses. PG&E isn’t investing in the project up front, agreeing only to buy power once it’s flowing, quite common in the utility business.
Frederick H. Pickel, who is an energy consultant and engineering economist in Los Angeles, elaborates on this project, “If this works, it changes the whole game. If they manage to reduce the cost sufficiently for space-based solar generation, the electric game changes, the natural gas game changes and, perhaps, even the oil game changes.”