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How Viable is Space-Based Renewable Energy?

Renewable Energy from Space-Based Solar Power Collectors, Science Fiction?
Renewable Energy from Space-Based Solar Power Collectors, Science Fiction?

Since the beginning of the Space Age, the idea has been around to “beam” renewable energy back down to Earth.

Still, flying cars have been on people’s minds since at least the 1930’s, perhaps even earlier if you consider science fiction writings. In fact, there are a lot of science fiction-type technologies that we still don’t have, including flying cars, plasma weapons, faster-than-light space travel, and space-based renewable energy platforms. That last one, however, could we do it? This US Department of Energy infographic shows some of the basic concepts and pros and cons…

Space-Based Solar Power

Space-based renewable energy, specifically solar power, seems to make sense. For example, in space, no one can hear you scream there are no clouds, nor atmosphere, which means uninterrupted pure solar power 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Depending on the size of the array, this could amount to serious amounts of power, more than 1 GW, or enough to power a large city.

On the plus side, space-based renewable energy would generate zero emissions, meaning we could eliminate tens of thousands of terawatts of fossil-fuel-based power production facilities. Emissions-free transportation could become a real possibility for the masses. Ah, the stuff science fiction dreams are made of. The technology, however, is real, and the benefits are within our grasp, sort of.

On the minus side is the fact that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of satellites would need to be launched into geostationary orbit in order to generate enough power, requiring perhaps billions of dollars in investment for something that will likely never be repaired. The Hubble Space Telescope, for example, is a mere 347 miles high, while space-based solar collectors would be somewhere around 22,000 miles. The energy would be converted from solar energy to microwave or laser energy, to beam down to a receiving pad on Earth, which might need to be several miles in diameter. Also, this renewable energy source, possibly a powerful one, could be misused and converted into a space-based weapon, so there’s that.

Image © US Department of Energy

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