Now that we have gotten through the recent power outages, I am going to take this “teaching moment” to discuss space-based solar power. After last week, it is clear to me, I have to get on the ball and install some solar power capability at my house. My Dad is ninety one and we live together. Granted he is fine shape, runs each day, still skies and plays golf three times a week. But he was not thrilled eating spaghetti by candle light and he got cold. We live behind A Mountain and have propane so we were able to cook. But no heat and no lights, no work for thousands of hourly wage earners is a wake-up call for our community.
No use ranting at El Paso Electric and Rio Grande Natural Gas. Those people were in the cold and dark just like us. The economics of energy investment is, after all up to us. The money BP spent on clean up and will spend on law suits, and recent rolling black outs, indicates investing in our future to enable consistent access to power is an investment worth considering. Energy demand is so great and growing; each of us has the obligation to become more proactive on behalf of our own survival.
The first time I saw a presentation on the concept of space-based solar power was at the Goldstone Observatory, an hour’s drive to the east of Pasadena, California. It is a wonderful place in the middle of the desert, peaceful, beautiful, with lots of scientists and lots of dishes for solar and deep space research. The scientists are pretty isolated so they were glad to talk visitors. My Dad was with me so I had a good indicator on the geek factor – his question after a talk that rates high on the geekometer – “Who was that sleeping in my seat?” He made it through the entire presentation with his eyes still open at the end. That and the forty nine cent hamburgers made the trip memorable.
The premise behind harvesting land or space based solar power is simple, our sun is the largest consistent potential energy source available to mankind. Research is clear, we have multiple ways of harvesting solar power on earth and in space. The earth based solar power industry, a $40 billion industry, has reached a consumer milestone; solar power kits are available at Home Depot in Las Cruces. Space based harvesting of solar power has a long history of powering satellites and powers the International Space Station.
Harvesting space-based solar power as a power source on earth is a very different business than harvesting solar power on earth. In both cases, the question of economics, not technology, has driven adoption. Collection of solar power for municipal use is a viable option for adoption by power companies such as El Paso Electric. El Paso Electric has added solar power to their portfolio, which also include nuclear power generators. We have a large solar panel farm being installed near Santa Teresa.
Space-based solar power would be an investment – a big one. Yet it would enable the launch of a new industry. The following website http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/ contains multiple links to discussions and research on space-based solar power. The best video is a TED talk at http://www.spaceenergy.com/i/flash/ted_presentation.
Space-based solar power can be collected by solar panels placed in geosynchronous orbit – 26,000 + miles away. The solar energy would be beamed back to earth on radio waves, safely collected with pinpoint accuracy by dishes, and converted to direct power. The physics of wireless power transmission is proven. Collection would be as safe as space-based satellite transmission of CNN or Dish TV, and the technology could not be weaponized. The Pentagon released a study in 2007 indicating space-based solar power development is a national and indeed a global security necessity to prevent potential all out global energy wars.
Space-based solar power has the advantage of being transferrable on demand. We encountered switching from frozen generators to natural gas generators but it still did not meet demand because demand on natural gas was so great, and transportation was compromised. Rural electrification, considered another strategy in alleviation of persistent poverty, is also enabled by space based and land based solar energy adoption. I suggest we not ask either or questions like land or space-based solar power. Consider learning about and adoption of both. PG & E is and so is Japan. Both have great demands for energy, Las Cruces is getting there too.