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Space-Based Solar Power Project Not so Cool


In our thirst for energy we gladly accept anything not done before, or old methods improved to work with new technologies. Still, we have to take into account all the possibilities these new ways of generating energy open for us, or close for other species or for our entire planet’s ecosystem.

For example, on the one hand, we would love to have huge space-based solar collectors planted onto satellites, and dishes on our homes to collect the energy that the spatial solar panels collect, as we wish to.

Ecofriend, via the Design Blog, presents the general design of such a method in a simple picture:


On the other hand, the idea sounds pretty impressive, but before hurrying to reach the land of Oz, we should consider a few aspects:

1. Satellites usually transmit signals, weak ones, signals that are amplified on the ground and converted into useful information. Anyway, the energy is small enough not to disturb anything.
2. In the design presented above, the energy focus is not meant to be unidirectional. This means that a greater amount of power would be lost on the way down, in some way or another.
3. Say the energy was unidirectional and somehow we would manage to have limited distinct points, the system would still be very costly.
4. …the most important part: lasers and microwaves are the best wireless energy carriers that we know. Whoever saw a microwave oven knows their power. Whoever saw a laser knows what it can do in large amounts. The point is we would have several hundred thousands of focused microwave-spectrum lines, and at that power (hundreds of thousands of kilowatts per hour) they would simply burn what ever crosses them. The same goes with lasers, no matter what wavelength. To whoever can demonstrate me the opposite, I am open to any rational argument, as I don’t pretend I can’t be wrong.

I agree with installing a huge solar space-based power station, and having a clearly delimited area at the North Pole, for example, where the airspace is not crowded and the signals couldn’t damage many birds crossing them (microwaves are very directional in space).

What’s your opinion on this?

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  2. I am not sure the North pole is the best place for such a thing. Ulitmately, you want to place the satellites in geostationary orbit. The further the you get from the equator, the further away you get from orbit being geostationary. Having a receiving station at the one of the poles would mean the least possible time that the satellites are in range to transmit the energy.

    I recently read that a breakthrough has been made with carbon nanotubes, possibly making a space lift cable into orbit a reality in as little as ten years. The microwave or laser satellites could then direct their beams at receivers on the space station that the space lift would be attached to and go down to the earth by cable.

  3. Ahh,…there is a major ecological problem with this! by harnessing a greater quantity of the suns energy from “off-planet” then focusing it to the planet you will increase the sum total of the earths energy input. How would this absolute increase be balanced,…ultimately by the only direction physics can go, along entropy to heat. This would just be a literal microwave oven turned onto the earth! Bad idea all around.

  4. Agreed the individual distribution of pace based power would likely not work. But aggregate distributions centers would. Agree with the author, IMO, first let’s prove the commercial feasibility of even being able to transmit power in this way at all, including the distribution cost.


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